I never thought of this question until recently. We are expected to be knowledgeable when we leave university, instead I got a sense that it is merely a piece of paper which proves that somehow I know something.
A couple of months back , a good friend of mine asked me what I would look for in a potential partner, graduated college was on the top of my list. He tells me ” But really what did you really learn at university? Maybe phrase that a bit better…
It’s true there is a degree of status and elitism in achieving higher heights of academia. Does it make them more capable? Intelligent? Insightful? There are so many people who can live in theoretical bubbles, and are incapable of interacting with the real world…
Why do we go to university? The first thing people say is to get a job. To get money. Statistically, that no longer makes sense… some of the highest paying jobs are not ones that require a traditional four year university , least of all a graduate degree. Degrees in nursing , electricians, plumbers and athletes all are necessary in our world yet are not recognized as such.
Furthermore, why is it that people have to shell out thousands for that privilege? Today universities have residential housing which create a microcosm of youthful energy that do anything but study. They are encouraged to party for the first two years. It is rare to go to bed at midnight. Students drink from Wednesday to Friday. They live in an extended adolescence without the consequences.
University has become a rite of passage , a way to introduce us to the rest of the world. The thing I remember the most about my college experience is not the learning, but the friendships and the wide diverse array of experiences that the institution offered.
Yet academia in no ways prepares students for the real world. In America, you spend two years in General Education subjects most of which offer little or no ability in your chosen area of study. That leaves two years to barely scratch the surface of your intended study. There is also a natural tendency to divide people between those who will have a better education within the same university. If you study business you are probably going to have a better facility than say, a Fine Arts department.
Most students, unless they completely excel can become an anonymous spot in the classroom. Especially in large campuses like my alma mater, UMass Amherst. Half the time my professors did not even remember I took a class with them and would pronounce rhetoric in a one sided manner. In the first two years of college you were forced to take classes which by all means were so crowded, you would never be able to ask questions even if you wanted to.
The academic professors are at times so removed from real world interactions that they just hand out their books that they wrote ten years ago. I once took a class twice and was surprised that the professor in a monotone voice had the same lecture every class. He did not even look at his students and instead left that to his grad students to do that work.
I found that rarely were students encouraged to learn for themselves, but rather were given information which was recycled into testing. In film classes, students sought to shock instead of discover and enlighten. In writing workshops, students were encouraged to criticize and compete. Everywhere I went, it lacked inspiration and an ability to truly empower me to do something with the knowledge that I was receiving.
I sought the courses that perhaps would offer me a different perspective. I took native american history, and slave narratives, and multicultural literature and spiritual autobiography. Classes that did not follow the Dead White Guys handbook. Why did we simply focus on Marlowe and Middle Literature and Shakespeare? Where was the rest of the world and their voices? Why was English Literature limited to one sphere?
But even those classes which opened my eyes to different cultures and perspectives left me horribly stagnated and depressed. Instead of encouraging me to action, it merely stated the message : society sucks.
None of my classes truly taught me how to make the world a better place, how to become an agent of positive change and truly use the knowledge I was given to make a difference.
Because that wasn’t what education was about. I was just a product encouraged to consume. Everywhere I went I was encouraged to buy something. Food. Credit Cards. Parties. Drinking.
And that’s the cold, hard truth of today’s educational system : It’s a very lucrative business to exploit young impressionable minds. They sell to the highest bidder. Why then are textbooks costing 100 dollars? Why do professors urge you to buy their own textbook? Why do they force kids to live in cramped dorms and shared bedrooms at exorbitant prices? To eat slimy cafeteria food which costs more than a fancy restaurant?
We have lost sight on the purpose of going to college. In it merely being a vehicle for creating jobs it has become in of itself a means for profit and consumption. Are all colleges evil and do not do anything positive? Of course not. But it’s main goal is a dichotomy to anything that would inspire us to change our lives in a positive way.
Knowledge should be a means in of itself. Knowledge that genuinely encourages action, that gives back. Knowledge which is a mighty force to change and to evolve. It is not stagnant. It is not afraid to ask questions. It is not paternalistic. It encourages diversity. It encourages the light of humanity . It is spiritual. It is love. It is above all for the benefit of all of humanity.
“Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”