The Lesson to Unlearn

I recommend reading the entire essay but here is a summary in one sentence + 3 images (note: I cheat by having images of text 😅).

Summary

The extent of the “Learning vs Grades” tradeoff (image 1) in school cultivates an extreme “How do I Hack the Test” mentality (image 2) which is the root cause of “the difficulty of getting founders to see the obvious” (image 3).


Image 1: The extent of the “learning vs grades” tradeoff in school …

I don’t think (and I don’t think Paul Graham thinks that) grades don’t matter. In a perfect world tests are simply a lagging measure of what you’ve learned. However, what really resonated with me (sadly, if I’m being honest with myself, because I do enjoy learning) was how much I personally felt the Learning vs Grades tradeoff while in school.

Image 2: … cultivates an extreme “How do I Hack the Test” mentality…

This is a great example but I actually think it still understates how prevalent and extreme the “how do I hack the test” mentality is in school.

Image 3: …which is the root cause of “the difficulty of getting founders to see the obvious”


Final Thoughts: How can this problem be solved?

To start, here are the two types of tests that exist.

There are two types of tests

So what can be done? That’s a tough question because:

  • On the student side: If one single student says “I’m going to prioritize learning vs grades” = that student will get a poor grade in a class.
  • On the education side: Un-hackable tests (a 1:1 conversation with a professor, for example) do not scale.

Despite this, Paul Graham is optimistic about the future. And in his opinion, the way this “bogus edifice” crumbles is when:

  • More and more people start to ask themselves if they want to win by hacking bad tests, and decide that they don’t
  • The kinds of work where you win by hacking bad tests will be starved of talent, and the kinds where you win by doing good work will see an influx of the most ambitious people.
  • And as hacking bad tests shrinks in importance, education will evolve to stop training us to do it.

Conclusion

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