A Simple Story About the Importance of Education

This is a true story you can use to stress the importance of education to your children.

When I was 19 I worked for a seafood restaurant as a prep cook, but specifically, I sliced and hand peeled thousands of individual shrimp 12-14 hours a day, six days a week.

We were a bunch of 18-30 year-old classic American burnouts – except – after school each day – one 15 year-old Korean kid peeled shrimp with us. We affectionately nicknamed him “Flounder.” He was a good kid and we tried not to corrupt him.

Everyone knew Flounder’s parents; they owned the flower shop and the liquor store at a nearby mall and his dad had been selling us booze since we were 15.

So, one day, about eight of us were standing around in the cooler doing whip-its, when I said, “Flounder, what are you doin’ workin’ a shit job? I mean, your parents own two businesses. They must be doin’ pretty good. You don’t need the money, do you?”

Flounder replied, “No, we don’t need the money. I don’t want this job. I hate it here. My dad makes me do it…. He said he wanted me to know what my life would be like if I didn’t get an education.”

It was silent. Flounder didn’t realize what he had said to us. We didn’t hold it against him. We all knew his dad was right, and it hurt.

We’d all been schooled, but we weren’t educated. We didn’t even know what it meant.

Some say Mark Twain said, “Never let your schooling get in the way of your education.”

Flounder’s dad knew that we learn in every moment of our lives, so he gave his son the best education he could by forcing him to peel shrimp.

At the time, I didn’t view peeling shrimp as an education, I viewed it as a way to make money. But it was a part of my education, and a valuable one I’m grateful to have had.

27 thoughts on “A Simple Story About the Importance of Education”

  1. Steve – awesome post!

    Thanks for helping to spread the word that it is our experiences in life that matter most.

    It is also a good reminder about the importance of having high quality experiences during the journey. Just “going through life” isn’t nearly as educational of an experience as learning about life!

  2. I am always amazed by stories of unexpected lessons that change a person’s life. How fortunate that you were able to meet Flounder and benefit from his father’s wisdom.

  3. Thanks for sharing a great story! The best learning experiences tend to happen outside of the classroom. I wish we could convince more people to give up the schooling mentality and focus more on education.

  4. I find it refreshing that a ‘personal development’ blog author can swear and talk about doing drugs when he was younger. So many of the other ones I read can seem so straight-laced and square at times. There’s more to life than being more productive or implementing yet another healthy habit. I like reading about the less glamorous side of life sometimes. It happens to all of us and there are plenty of lessons in it.

  5. Shawn,

    One of my core values is authenticity. It’s actually one of the reasons I ended up a burnout when I was a kid (but that’s for another blog post- or maybe another blog altogether). I didn’t find life worth living unless I could fly my freak flag high. It pisses me off that they don’t let kids be who they are today, authority supresses them like never before. If I can’t tell it like it is… I’d rather not say anything.

    I’m glad you find it refreshing. I appreciate your time and your comment.

    In 1980, over 70% of high school seniors used illegal drugs. What happened to them? I’ll guarantee you that some of them are congressmen, CEOs, and highly successful entrepreneurs. Some of them are also dead too, but the fact remains… denial is foolish if there is something to learn from it. We are what we are, and we move forward from here.

    The fact that most of us have made mistakes and lived, is testimony to the kids today, that they too can make mistakes and recover.

    The cool thing about reality is… we have the power to change it. They don’t teach you that is school.

  6. Thanks for this Steve. Your response to Shawn is very powerful. I sometimes meet young people who are passing exams but I am not sure that means they are learning much. Without that experience Flounder may well have passed his exams but I bet he excelled at whatever he chose to do to earn a living after that! And I agree with Shawn re the straightlaced and square perspective – I think the fact that you say this from an honest personal perspective makes it all the more relevant.

  7. When I was a kid, my mom would keep saying things like, “why are you not studying? Do you want to be a bum when you grow up?” – She would go through a whole list of bum- jobs. It was scary and it didn’t make sense. At times, she would go like, “do you want to be a lousy couch husband, clean up after yourself!” On and on. It didn’t make sense most of the time. It hurt most of the time. Now, looking back, I thank her every day for instilling some education and values that help me every day. From being curious and reading healthy stuff, like your blog, to cooking at home to save money. So, you just reminded me of how we get educated even when we don’t get it. Nice post!

  8. This is why I graduated college. Not that I loved taking classes, or thought the profs were worth a shit. Because I worked shit jobs to survive all through college. I didn’t want to work for assholes my whole life and deal with coked out/hung over managers.

  9. How true this story is. But try telling this information to a child who is young and going through “the teenaged years”. Most of the time we have to learn things for ourselves even though we have great parents trying to save us from our mistakes. Hopefully we get the lesson before it’s to late.

  10. “Never let your schooling get in the way of your education.” – great quote.

    Another one of my favorite quotes on education is one by Herbert Spencer – “The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.”

    Really good article, I know lots of parents who should read this…

  11. This is pretty good pattern that can be applied every were. Take you kids to see alcoholists trying to make them avoid using drugs and alcohol, show your kids lang cancer to make them refrain from smoking, show your kids injured in car wrecks to make them drive safe, etc. I also do it with my job that somehow involves risk management – i show my customers possible loss if not applying best practice. So far, works for me 🙂

  12. What a wonderful story!

    I agree education is important. But we must not think only going to school is the option to have education. Sometimes we are required to learn from life circumstances, which provides us the best insights.

    Now when I learn from my life experiences, I update my blog so that I can spread more learning experiences to the people who need it

    My blog is for people who need a better insights on how to get law of attraction work for their life.


  13. Good call, Steve.

    A lot of people do this kind of precipitous thing where they cruise through life on autopilot without questioning their ultimate purpose.

    And given that the best time to figure this shit out is when you’re young, I feel sorry for people who keep cruising until they hit 30, one day waking up and asking, “What the hell am I doing with my life?”

  14. Hey Steve,

    I can relate to your story, I also worked long hard hours at a job I didn’t like. Biggest lesson I learned is that it wasn’t what I wanted. The other weird thing that just came up was an image of a 60 year old I used to work with at this job. He used to drink a case a beer a day and was all run down…. I’m sure you can visualize the type. You know what he told me? He gave me the best advise of all. He told me to have a plan, a plan for my future….huh, I guess I learned two things.


    Stephen Martile
    Personal Development with NLP

  15. I agree with Flounder’s father.

    When I was 20 I was quickly on the road to know where and started working in a factory. The experience of working in a factory quickly got my act together. Within 8 months I was back in school and had a drive to never end up in a place like that for the rest of my life. Looking back on the factory work experience, it was the best education I ever had.

  16. oh these poor people living in rich countries having to peel shrimp. one of them could invent a shrimp peeler and make millions, without an education.

  17. GREAT story… really made me stop and think. The value of perspective is amazing. My teen boys will be reading it tonight. 🙂

  18. This is a nice story. Personally, I am against education. I am all for learning. I am all for life-long learning because we need to constantly adapt. But education is an institution and it churns out institutionalized minds. I am appalled at the notion all kids should go to college. In 1950, a college degree meant something. You had to be intelligent to get one. Now that is not the case.

    I left home and school at age 16. I had scores of mostly horrible jobs, but one or two were marvelous. I wandered about in Europe and North Africa by myself. I had adventures. I often had no money. I was sometimes hungry. But I lived my life. I read and read. I read Russian classics, I read about astronomy, I learned enough French to get by and read it. I stayed on a farm of an Italian prince (although I never met him). I learned to draw. I even lived for a while in a gravediggers’ cottage in England (where I am from). I had a girlfriend for a while who was an aristocrat and I was a plumber’s mate. I could not have lived this life at any other time.

    I was 24 when I had taken enough night school to get into art school where, four years later, they gave me a degree. Was I educated by my degree course? Not really.

    But this is just my experience. We are all unique. I mean that. One problem with education (in its present form) is that it wants to make us all the same. At least art school honored our individuality.

    I was always an avid reader. I picked up, Deschooling Society, by Ivan IIIich as a kid and never looked back.

    Today, my favorite educator is Sir Ken Robinson. See what words of wisdom he has to say in his video on Google.

  19. I enjoyed reading your story. It was brief, but its message is clear. Kids today have so many distractions. For instance, teens and pre-teens have cell phones, PCs, ipods, and digital cameras. Growing up in this world is far different from my days as youngster. With all these distractions, kids grow up less appreciative and don’t begin to grasp the idea of hard work or the importance of a solid education. Education is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s the one thing that nobody else can take from you. You can lose material things, your hair, your youth, your heart, your trust in others, but you can’t lose your education.

    – Bianca

  20. Life is a like a race track that would involve the baton of education, this baton of education needs to be passed down fom the older generation to the younger generation.
    The the importance of education can not be overemphasized. Every second, minute, day adds to the education of an individual.

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