Friday, May 15, 2009

Observations on Higher Education

Evangelical Outpost (now officially graduated from blog to online journal) wonders about the true value of Higher Education in our culture. The opening anecdote:

"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?

Indeed, It seems to be. The author goes on to ask whether such stress really is worth it for all these students whom we have told: "go to college, and make one million dollars more!" I was actually told this. The asterisk was that it was spread out over an average lifetime, during which much of that million services my college loans. But I degress.

I still regard college as beneficial to me. The key was registering which subject I really studied. College was a social, rather than academic, education for me. As a sheltered conservative home schooler, my eyes were opened to many new concepts(amongst other things ;-)) It was, in essence, my emotional public highshcool. Which is how many other students view it: four more years of living a carefree life off the generosity of others, thinly veiled by academics. And when that veil is ripped apart between original purpose and side benefit, the side benefit often becomes the purpose and vice versa.

But why is this? Colleges often complain of having to teach and re-teach what we should have learned in elementary school; important things like reading and grammar. Should it surprise us then that our emotional level reflects the same? In a civilization free of the realities of survival, why bother growing up?

Those responsible for education are as complicit as their students, as observed by Brian M. at as a

"baleful impact upon education of our present government's mania for setting
targets (often involving exam results) and then rewarding institutions according
to how well they could fake reaching these targets."

He then points to commenter Rob Spence at David Hepworth's blog:

"So on the one hand we are accepting students with at best a mediocre academic
record, whose motivation is not study but lifestyle, and on the other we are
being penalised financially if we fail to retain them. No-one can be surprised
if these utterly apathetic students drift away, but the system insists that
every student who decides, for probably very good reasons, that they don't want
to carry on, represents a failure on the part of the university, which then gets
its funding reduced."

To survive, colleges are forced to lower their own standards to retain these students, and inflate the value of thier own degrees, forcing those interested in a "serious" education to study longer and harder.

Lives are longer, and people strive to maintain childhood longer. No longer forced to adress the realities of survival, the values of life itself become inflated. Our stressed out graduate was living on the old time-table. Life, in the minds of many, is no longer so short as to require complete education by age 25. It used to be age 16, back when the life expectancy was 52; it's now almost 80. By percentage of lifespan, we're not changing much, and that is a wasted oportunity.

The graduate above had indeed recieved an education. Anything valuable in life requires sleepless nights. Relationships will be strained and broken by diferent priorities. This education is that the friends who stuck by her for the long term during those sleepless nights are her true friends.

With longer life and lighter civilizational peril, the urgency is gone from our generation. We could still send kids to college at age 16, and sometimes still do. But maintaining the illusion of childhood cannot maintain a community nor a civilization.

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