Before I begin, let me be clear that nothing I say should be taken as a slight against the institutions that were central to my upbringing. As far as schools go, mine were pretty good, and even now, I can say that my education was worth something – a lot, actually – so again, let me stress that these are abstract considerations divorced from personal experience.
G. K. Chesterton once said, "Without education, we are [in danger] of taking educated people seriously." In the same vein, no education is complete without a healthy contempt for school. Though contempt by itself is an ugly thing, contempt grounded in understanding can save us from overvaluing grades, credentials and other measures of academic success.
The Perfect Student
Academic merits indicate a desired level of performance within the classroom, but they do not necessarily indicate value beyond the classroom.
Case in point: Ignatius J. Reilly, the so-called protagonist from A Confederacy of Dunces. Despite having a master's degree and a pathological obsession with Boethius, the man is unemployed and unemployable, good for less than the good-for-nothings down at the nightclub. In fact, Reilly is like a malformed Chesterton: a medievalist reactionary decrying "the myth of progress," minus the wit, minus the charm, minus the personal qualities that would make him a useful scholar. Ignatius is thoroughly schooled but horribly educated.