Being Schooled = Being Educated

Dear Dr. Fournier:

My son does very well in school, almost without effort. I hardly know if he has homework or a project due because he takes care of it on his own. Occasionally, he may ask for some help, but that’s it. I am grateful for a son who is capable and handles his work with a sense of responsibility. However, some parents tell me I should be worried because he is not being challenged. Should I be concerned about this? Is there truth in what I’ve heard that students who haven’t had to struggle a bit in high school are not prepared for college? I’m embarrassed to ask these questions, but I’m as worried about my son as all the parents who have children with more challenging problems in school.

Jane R.

Columbia, SC

Dear Jane:

When a student brings home good grades with reasonable effort, it is an occasion that is usually marked with celebration. Rightly so! Your child is doing him or herself a service by putting him/herself into a position that will ultimately meet with many post graduate options. However, parents need to stop and assess whether the grades are the result of the child being schooled well or educated well. There is a big difference.

Students who are schooled well have mastered how to follow the system’s commands.

If they are told to study ten pages of information for a test, not only can they do this, but this is all they will do. While they appear to be at the top of their class, these students take the road to success only if someone else draws the road map and they simply follow the route. This is a behavior built on reactiveness. Given direction or instructions, these students will react perfectly. But when asked to come up with instructions on their own, these students may become paralyzed.

Even when asked to complete a simple task, like writing their name on paper, reactive students will ask for detailed instructions: “Where? Should I write it in manuscript or cursive? Do you want my first name or my whole name? Should I use pencil or pen?”

The story that always comes to mind when I am asked to explain the difference between “schooled” and “educated” is a simple one. A father came to me frantic with worry about the quality of his son’s education, similar to your situation. The father was concerned that, while his son who attended a well thought of local private school was making As in Algebra; he had seen no aptitude for application in his son. I asked him what the catalyst was for this, and he answered that the two of them had been on a road trip. The father asked his son how many miles they were going to be able to go on the now full tank of his thirty-two miles per gallon car. His son responded by staring at him blankly, with nary a clue as to how this could be solved. How is it that this child could have performed well in solving equations in Algebra and doing all that was asked of him in school, and then show no aptitude for practical application of said learning in the world outside the schoolroom? This is an example of being schooled.

In contrast, children who are educated may well ask or answer questions, but they are far more concerned with creating their own road map. They can tell you what they have learned thus far in the school year in their own words. They have the capacity to proactively process information with pre-thought and after-thought as the material is being taught.

Students who are educated well do not have to spend hours studying because they do not wait until the test date is announced to begin learning. Also, because they learn as they go, they do not take as long to learn new material. They already have within themselves the foundational information needed to support new learning.


Grades are important, especially in high school. In fact, I call high school grades “tattoos” because the semester grades are tattooed to each student for a lifetime, helping to determine paths and opportunities for higher learning. This becomes a double-edged sword for many students, causing some to become more reactive in search of good grades rather than taking risks to become proactive leaders. A reactive student can very well be an A student. A proactive student may very well be an A or B student.

So Jane, as a parent, it is up to you to ensure that your son is being educated well and not just schooled to respond to a teacher’s desires. Monitor your son’s grades and assess whether he is being reactive or proactive. Resist the temptation to measure his success based on his hours logged studying- or suffering. Studying is too often a reflection of a child reacting to tomorrow’s test rather than proactively reviewing what he needs to know for a lifetime of learning.

In the past, it was acceptable- even desired- for schools to turn out students prepared to be a part of a reactive workforce. They were required to follow instructions and please their manager(s) or supervisor(s). But in today’s rapidly changing work world, we need proactive individuals who can self manage and self-direct. That’s why it’s so important to make the change from being schooled well to being educated well. Our children’s future depends on it .


Yvonne Fournier
Dr. Yvonne Fournier has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. She has followed her own roadmap in becoming arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today.