Just mailed off my answers to Friday’s questions. Here they are. Now going to take a peek at everyone else’s.
1. What is your opinion of the value of college in today’s society?
College covers a wide variety of types of education. With that in mind, I see several common types of value, but they will vary from student to student:
-Professional training. In fields such as health care, engineering, accounting, and so forth, as well as smaller but still important fields such as the theoretical sciences, social sciences, and the like, there’s a lot to be learned. College provides a place to learn it.
-Learning how to think. Whether through a rigorous liberal arts program, or through the study of the sciences, or honestly any subject studied in depth, something college can do, but doesn’t always, is give the student training in how to study, how to research a question, how to think about a topic in a mature and thoughtful way, and ideally, how to act on the findings.
-Signaling to employers. This to me is the most common reason students today attend college, and an unfortunately necessary one, but one which I think is wasteful. Completing a college degree tells employers, “I can do the work”. Getting a high school diploma was once this signal. Getting an 8th grade diploma was once this signal. Now we find people getting masters degrees, and employers requiring them, just to signal who stands out from the crowd as college becomes watered-down as well. I don’t think this is a good trend.
-As I mentioned on the phone, I think sadly, one purpose of our state and community colleges is to provide a high school education. In SC the quality of high schools varies tremendously. As a result, many students who finish high school with decent grades have not yet received a high school education. They come to college and are given courses in algebra, basic writing skills, and supplemental tutoring for their other courses, to make up for what they did not learn, and should have, in high school. This reality is shameful for our public schools, but of course I am glad that there is some means that students who persevere through their lousy high school can in the end get the education they deserve.
2. Do you believe in the theory that everyone should have a college education?
No. I think college is being used for the average student as a substitute for a good 8th grade education. Read through a copy of the McGuffy Reader Book 6. It’s a school reading book series published in 1879, once widely used throughout the US in pre-high-school education. The selections are what students now read in college. I do think that this kind of education — a well-rounded liberal arts education — combined with professional training either in secondary schools, or trade schools, or college, or on-the-job, I do think this is necessary for nearly everyone. But it’s a pathetic state of affairs when what used to pass for 8th grade is now being taught at University.
I think that teens who resist being forced to sit still, and to “learn” virtually nothing for years, when they are at the peak of their energy level, and ready to prove themselves and learn on the job, I think these teens are feeling a normal, healthy impulse. It’s normal to want to *do* something, not just sit around. It’s silly to water down school and then wonder why kids drop out. It’s a travesty that there are no good options for young people who want to go right into the working world, whether before or after high school, and come back to higher education later in life. I think for many young people, some real-life work experience first would add value to their education when they are ready to resume their studies in a more serious way.
I think also the emphasis on official certifications (“getting the piece of paper”) versus real learning is embarrassing. How can it be more valuable to be forced to learn something for a test, than to go out and learn it on your own, out a pure desire to gather the knowledge? Silly.
3. According to Louis Menand, author of “Live and Learn”, there are three theories of why people attend college. The first theory is that college is an intelligent test meaning people go to college to prove they are smart. The second theory people go to college is for the social benefits since college should theoretically be getting people ready to enter society. The third theory is that college is job training. How does this align with you own theory of the purpose of college? Do you believe in these some values?
Per my answer in #1, I somewhat agree with this. I’d like to talk, though, about the “getting people ready to enter society”. College does try to do this to you. As a simple fact, the professors and staff do try to impart their values on their students, and are often successful. (And wish you well in the process — they are trying to do you a service). And this is a concern to me, because we can see that some widely-held values in our society are in fact quite harmful. But let me clarify: The problem here isn’t that students learn the values of their professors; it’s that our culture is warped to a point that the values being taught are simply wrong. In those schools where students are taught to live well and think clearly, college can be an immense help.
I’ll also observe that in preparing to enter the adult world, long hours spent goofing off with other teenagers is . . . maybe not the most effective method? That what we end up with is not young people who learn to act like grown-ups, but rather grown-ups who go on to spend their whole life acting like children. They think they’re being grown-up, because they’re still doing what they learned to do in college.
(This is nothing new, by the way. From the very invention of the university, students were notorious for plaguing the townspeople with their binge drinking and other misbehavior. Maybe it’s time to reconsider how we do student housing?)
4. Growing up was your value of a college education influenced in any way? If so was it family? Teachers? Or some other form?
In our family, the expectation was that we’d go to college. Normal as drinking water or decorating a Christmas tree. Just what you do. Not a question, just a way of life.
5. In recent years the availability of a college education has changed and become more accessible to more people. For example there are online Universities, certain states offer scholarships to many high school graduates, and there is government funding to minorities. Do you agree or disagree with this?
I think it is good to make college more accessible, to not have it be the province of the wealthy, as it once was. I don’t always care for the particulars of every way this happens — for example, I don’t like scholarship programs that pressure students into attending college before they are ready for it.. I am strongly in favor of education that is universally available at modest cost, throughout the lifetime of the citizen.
6. What will you teach your own kids about the value of a college education? What influences this?
I’m encouraging my kids to discern their vocation: What does God want me to do with my life? College is something that will either fit in with that, or not. I think of my kids as being “college material”, because yes, they’re smart, inquisitive, talented . . . everything points towards “should go to college”. But ultimately I don’t want them to just follow a set path. I want them to follow *their* path, whatever that is. I thinks it’s dangerous to approach life by doing what you’re “supposed to do” because that’s what “everyone does” or “it’s the thing to do”. Rather contrary to the point of a university, don’t you think? To accept something as true without testing it? Without probing and asking, “Is this really right?”. There’s no sense sending a kid to learn critical thinking, if you only came up with that decision due to a failure in critical thinking. :-).