“I was up all night finishing my philosophy senior thesis on what it means to be human.
During the last weeks, as a result of stressing over this thesis, I have not been able to be with people I want to be with, sleep a healthy amount, and have actually had relationships ruined by my lack of availability. Ironic.”
This is education? The person who related this to me is not indolent, but an overachiever. Therefore, for whatever her classes call her to achieve, this is what it looks like to overachieve it. Is ‘it’ education?
One week until finals, and walking around campus, this conversation repeats like a nervous twitch:
“Hey, what’s up? How’re you?”
“Exhausted. I have so much work to get done.”
“Yeah…Yes. Me too.”
“Hang in there. Two more weeks.”
“Yeah. We should hang out! …sometime.”
“Definitely.” [Both knowing it will not happen.]
I understand the need for productivity and hard-work, but sometimes the type of output demanded in the university game becomes absurd. The students with time to cultivate relationships normally only do so by substituting it for their classes’ agendas. The ‘good students’ defer community for studying.
Is the deferral necessary for achieving the purpose of ‘higher education’? Is the purpose to accrue cold facts and a profitable career?
Most teachers would tell you that education is more than job-security. However, in the culture’s common approach to education, the discussion deviates from that view. If you look at the “Education” page of the Wall St. Journal, in a moment you’ll realize that every entry has to do with material standards of education’s value—college application strategies, standardized testing statistics, post-collegiate employment, etc. ad nauseam.
One such article in particular caught my eye. As a friend of students who will be graduating in a couple weeks, as well as being a student myself, one might expect that I would be grabbed by the tantalizingly frightful title, “The Curse of the Class of 2009.”
What is this ‘curse’?:
Eradication of the educated?? Nope.
Impending worldwide war? Nope.
…unemployment? Not even.
Murray identifies that “…the consequences of graduating in a downturn are long-lasting. They include lower earnings, a slower climb up the occupational ladder and a widening gap between the least- and most-successful grads.” However, the most ’successful’ people I know, (and by that I mean those who seem to most experience life richly), are not the wealthiest people I know. However, they are often the most educated people I know. Murray said in her article that, “a college degree isn’t an automatic ticket to upward mobility.” True, but a college education just might be, if we’re willing to redefine ‘upward mobility’ as indicating something other than ‘social status’.
Since when do we equate ‘education’ with ‘degree’? If degree becomes an end in itself, and not an indicator of a non-tangible possession, the student’s work is superfluous. The ‘C’ students become the intelligent ones—why waste time going beyond what is necessary for the degree?
Obviously, I completely reject that view on education. In Murray’s article, a college grad who now works two low-paying jobs was quoted, ‘“I don’t think anyone went to college and said, ‘I want to graduate and make $25,000 a year.’” In her words, I see that even after gaining ‘education’, missing the value of knowledge apart from its lucrative consequences is still possible.
No wonder campus is so stressed. Productivity becomes the pressure when gain is the goal. In an article from 2003 entitled, “Hello to College Joys: Keep Stress Off Campus,” NY Times contributor Jane Brody wrote,
“…for an increasing number of students, the college experience is marred by chronic anxiety, stress and distress.
“In recent years more than 80 percent of campuses have noted significant increases in serious psychological problems, including severe stress, depression, anxiety and panic attacks…”
This is the path of the materialist education. At this cost, who is the person who makes the 6-figures: what will the student become but either a vicious, competitive cog or a nervous wreck?
All of that culminates into the question of where the balance lies between free creation and required production in educational cultivation. I will leave the tension here, mostly because I have yet to find it myself, but also because the discussion should continue. Dialogue on education’s actual purpose contrasted with the purpose our society identifies should always continue, not cease in illusory, neat resolutions.
If nothing else, perhaps in pursuing the question, we’ll learn something.