Why your expensive education was a waste of money

There’s no such thing as an average human. The assumption that there is has distorted work and education for a century. Now science is changing that.

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A little over a century ago, the world made a decision. Businesses had a massive demand for educated employees that could fill new kinds of jobs. To fill this demand, we went from educating about 5% of the population, to educating 100%, and built a massive education industry, from kindergarten to grad-school, to do the job.

The End of Average by Todd Rose

Today that industry is failing badly. And it’s costing us, both in taxes and student debt. The End of Average by Todd Rose proves why, and argues for much needed change.

Businesses wanted educated employees. But they also wanted average employees. People with standard skills, who could be slotted into defined jobs, and easily replaced. So the decision was made to build all schools and colleges around the assumption that an average human existed, and that we can all be ranked and graded, A-F, against the average.

The only problem is, the assumed existence of an average human is utter nonsense. And Todd Rose, Director of the Mind, Brain, & Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, sets out a wide array of research based evidence to show non-experts what science has known for decades – there’s no such thing as an average human.

Sure. You can take a sample of people and average out various measures of physique or intellect. But when you average out these factors to create an average human…nobody meets them! Or such a blindingly small percentage that the entire idea of average becomes a nonsense. In a shocking twist, scientific researchers like Rose are demonstrating that we really are all individuals!


If you’re the person shouting “I’M NOT!” then it’s worth considering what the wrong headed assumption of the “average person” really means. Because it completely distorts our education system and our workplaces. Colleges rank people into levels of talent based on an average, when if you assess students as individuals you find that most people are equally talented but in different ways. Workplaces define average jobs that frustrate the excellent work most people could do if we were treated as individuals.

The End of Average draws widely on examples from industry, including vast corporations like Costco, to show how investing in employees as individuals actually creates  a much MORE efficient business for the modern world than the 20th century paradigm of average employees and standard jobs. Not convinced, read the book and find out!

But the most important argument in Todd Rose’s book is how our education system is radically, and expensively, failing us. We no longer live in a world of average and excellent. However low or high status your college was, however average or excellent it made you believe you are, you like all of us are an individual. And until education finds ways to help students develop as individuals, it won’t be worth the money. The End of Average makes excellent suggestions for change, that we should all pay attention to.

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Read about the Buddhism’s intricate relationship to modern psychology and the great thinker Joseph Campbell on why we must all create our own mythologies.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

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