A real-world view from accomplished Victorians
Education is a process that has been both revered and reviled by mankind. Mark Twain described it as the path from “cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty” and Oscar Wilde weighed in with his opinion that “nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
With the new school year starting it isn’t surprising that the debate about the value of education continues in classrooms, campuses and café’s around Victoria. Given the cost of education these days and the state of our economy, is seeking a solid, formal education still as valuable as it once might have been?
It may be that an undergraduate degree no longer carries the level of respect that it once engendered. In a tough economy we know that there are many graduates who find themselves underemployed or, in fact, unemployed.
To make matters worse, we have the anomalies. A quick web search will confirm that hundreds of the world’s wealthiest and most successful men and women achieved their status without finishing any post secondary education at all.
Wolfgang Puck, of restaurant fame, quit school at the age of 14. Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple, never finished college, and Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates is a Harvard school dropout.
Still, it may be that we would be wise to avoid the trap of minimizing the value of education based upon those exceptions. In truth, according to Statistics Canada, university graduates will earn an average of $30,000 per annum more than those individuals with only a high school education by the time they are 50 years of age. So although the impact may not be immediate, the financial benefits are still there.
It may also be that the other benefits are more important. To get an insight to those positive factors, we talked to some of Victoria’s better known individuals for their attitudes toward education. The results are fascinating. Not one of the individuals interviewed minimized the role of education in their lives. On the contrary, they are the biggest proponents of learning.
Here are a few of those comments.
Mayor Dean Fortin
Mayor Dean Fortin has always loved learning. “My favorite quotation is one from Isaac Newton,” says the mayor. He said that he had seen further by ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’. That’s what education gives you; the ability to learn from the experience and wisdom of others. We are foolish to ignore those lessons.”
Fortin has always had a love of learning and has continued to seek knowledge and education throughout his life.
However, he sees the role of schools changing. “There is so much information out there today, and it is far more accessible than it once was,” he says. “It was once the case that education had a ‘Sage on the Stage’ approach wherein professors stood in a class and gave students information. That isn’t valid any longer. Today’s education has to be modeled on the ‘Guide on the Side’ approach. Educators have to help you discover information and develop critical thinking skills to allow you to succeed.”
Does Mayor Fortin still love learning? “Every day of my life,” he says.
Elizabeth May is the leader of the Green Party of Canada and the first Green Party MP in the House of Commons. She has also been an author, activist, environmentalist and lawyer.
But Elizabeth spent most of her 20s working as a waitress and cook in her family’s restaurant, never having finished an undergraduate degree. Still, she has always had a love of learning and when she discovered an equivalency program that allowed her to vault into law school without an undergrad degree, she jumped at the chance. “For me, returning to school after waitressing was like gulping oxygen after years without air,” she says.
“Education and learning has always sustained me,” says May. “I kept my mind in a place of inquiry even when I couldn’t afford snow boots and trudged through winter with wet feet, and I was happy.”
“Developing the skills of critical thinking, of intellectual curiosity and a discerning intellect are far more valuable to happiness and well-being than merely money in the bank,” she says.
D’Oyen Christie isn’t all that well known on the streets of Victoria, but his work is legendary. He’s executive pastry chef at the Fairmont Empress, and the genius behind the world renowned afternoon tea at that historic hotel.
He arrived in Victoria in 2002 and has been responsible for serving the prime minister, the Queen and more celebrities than you can imagine.
Was education important in achieving this success?
“It was the single most important factor in my life,” says D’Oyen. “It formed the foundation for my life. Without the foundation of education, you have nothing to build on.”
D’Oyen got his undergrad degree at George Brown College in Toronto and studied at Valrhona in Paris to round out his education.
“People don’t realize that my position requires the knowledge of chemistry and mathematics; a knowledge of business and financial management; all of these things as well as a knowledge of the craft.
“There is always more to learn and with a good foundation in education, you can be a success at whatever you try to accomplish.”
Heather Lindsay is a recent arrival in Victoria. She came from Vancouver to assume the role of general manager of Intrepid Theatre Company.
Heather got her education at Simon Fraser University’s School for Contemporary Arts, and has pursued further training with the National Screen Institute in Toronto.
“That education was crucial for my career,” says Lindsay. “My goal was always to work in theatre. I set my goals and then got the education I needed to make it a reality.”
But the education wasn’t all about learning the craft of theatre.
“I took courses in economics and business as well,” Lindsay says. “In this business you have to know how to create and manage a business; how to write grant proposals and business plans. The craft is at the heart of it, but without the business side of it, the craft can’t continue.”
Heather still draws upon the mentorship of her professors at Simon Fraser.
“They are lifelong friends and supports to me and they’re beyond value to me in my life. They are friends as well as mentors.”
“To succeed you have to learn, and keep learning,” she says.
Commander Bradley Peats
If there’s anyone who knows about the value of education, it’s Commander Bradley Peats. He’s the commanding officer at the Naval Officer Training Centre at Maritime Forces Pacific Headquarters. It’s his job to impart naval skills and knowledge as well as a sense of the Navy’s history to new officers.
Cmdr. Peats received his education at the Royal Military College in Kingston where he earned a degree in history.
He followed that up with a master’s degree in defence studies at the college in Toronto.
“I was very fortunate. My father was in the Air Force and I watched him get his education through night school classes,” says Peats.
“My education has been the single most important factor in achieving any success I’ve had.”
And he knows that the education he provides to our future naval officers will be just as important.
“The historical aspects of their training are very important. History tends to be circular and we can learn from the decisions of great men who have come before us. If we learn from them we can duplicate their successes and avoid their failures,” he says.
“A military education should be a consideration for anyone coming out of high school,” says Peats. “It teaches discipline and structure. There have been a lot of graduates who leave the military and put those skills to use in civilian life with great success. The secret is to keep learning all your life.”
So it seems that today’s students might be wise to take a page from Albert Einstein who said: “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”
These successful men and women in Victoria agree and have modeled their own lives and successes on that advice. M