Saturday, December 6, 2014

The What and The Why of Education





By Professor Doom

     As usual, I get a massive spike of hits to my blog around this time of year, as students, failing in college, query the mighty Google what to do about it. Thus my post on failing in college is now my most popular post. Several of my posts have far more hits in a single day by a factor of 20, but the steady hits to my Failing in College? post have relentlessly made it the most popular, even though, I suspect, the majority of my regular readers are not students that are currently failing college.

     Across the country, millions of people are enrolled in college, confident that a degree, any degree, is the magic ticket to wealthy life. A degree can certainly lead to a better life, but the reality is that an education, not a slip of paper, is far more likely to lead to fulfillment than any document, no matter  how gloriously embossed.

     Because of the student loan scam, most colleges accept anyone, no matter how extensive the student’s track record of academic failure, no matter if the student is clearly just another Pell runner. Instead of making progress toward that degree, they fail. Oh, the students bumble around in psych and Gender Studies courses for a while, and score easy A’s there, but when it comes time for the courses that actually lead to a degree? Failure…and the poor students don’t know what’s being done to them.

     I’m the only one of my friends to make it out of [community college]. We all took courses, but when we transferred, found out that nothing we took really prepared us for [university]. There was you, and [one of the few legit teachers left], but everything else was a waste of time. My friends all just went back, but I managed to get by.

--I recognized a student from a questionable school I worked at a number of years earlier, and congratulated him on making his escape. He knew what I meant by saying “escape”, and responded as above. Emphasis added.


     A recent encounter with a former student reminded me of what I really do in my job: prepare students for more. For example, the reason why we “force” students to have basic reading and writing skills as freshmen? So that we know they’re prepared for addressing the more challenging, and relevant, pieces of literature humanity has produced. Students complain about the courses they are forced to take, and administrators complain about offering such courses, because neither knows enough about education to understand why they’re “cruelly” forced to take them. Why not just put them directly in Brain Surgery 101? That sounds far more useful, after all.

    A common complaint about higher education is how useless so much of it is, especially liberal arts. Perhaps so, but obscure topics of higher education were never about usefulness. Yes, some topics may be useful, but that was never the point.

     Take, for example, philosophy, the discipline most vociferously censured as being the most fundamentally useless of all courses. In times past, logic used to be taught as philosophy (it still is, I admit, but nowhere near as commonly as it used to be). Logic prepares students to understand rational thinking, all but necessary to truly comprehend the thoughts of our greatest philosophers.

     Even without logic, of what usefulness to the real world is there to studying the thoughts of Plato, Socrates, and Nietzsche? I can only respond with “why must it be useful to the real world?” However, for a human being that is pursuing the big questions of reality, of consciousness, studying the thoughts of the greatest minds that  have devoted themselves to such topics does, at the least, prepare the student to construct answers of his own to the various big questions of “why?” 

     “Read a book!”

--common retort to an excessive display of ignorance


     Preparation. That’s the purpose of higher education, but why do we send our young to massive institutions, soak up around 6 years of their lives, and charge them a grotesque fortune for the “privilege”? Honestly, the vast bulk of knowledge is in books, or on the internet, and neither books nor internet access cost all that much, especially if you stick to textbooks that are a few years old (and thus obsolete, thanks to the textbook scam).

     “Hey, can you show me how to modify this file?”
 
--I’m no computer whiz, and learning computer tasks that I’ve never done before will either take an hour of frustration on my part as I peruse technical manuals…or I can just ask someone that knows.


     The reason why university education came about is fairly simple: if you want to learn something, the easiest, fastest, way to do it is to ask someone who knows how to do it show you. So, if you want to know things, you also want to be near people that know things. People that know things tend to want to know more things, and so such people tended to form groups.

     And that’s all a university used to be: a collection of scholars, people that know things, in the same area.

     But back to the point, the fast way to learn is to have someone show you. So, ideally, higher education should be about preparation, and while such preparation can totally come from books, it’s just quicker if you have a teacher, especially a personal teacher, to show and guide you in the things you want and need to know.

     Now, Educationists have taken over higher education, seeking not knowledge, but expansion. The results have been disastrous for both the what and the why of education.

     Instead of preparation, our campuses are filled with ridiculous coursework that, rather than prepare students, wastes their time and their (or, more accurately, the taxpayers’) money. Preparation, what used to be a goal of accreditation, has literally vanished from accreditation requirements, which is why UNC could run fake “paper courses” for a generation with no complaint from accreditation, and why they won’t lose accreditation for such shenanigans.

     Now our universities are loaded down with bogus courses only marginally better at best than any UNC paper course. Rather than waste time and money on bogus courses, the student wishing an education would be better off just reading random books.

     Instead of learning from a teacher, now our students are loaded into massive, overflowing classrooms, it’s all but impossible to get a degree without having at least a few classes “taught” by one instructor, alongside dozens, even hundreds of students…and many campuses are building (or already have) lecture halls that can “accommodate” 1,000 students or more. A student can gain nothing from a teacher in this manner; all that can happen is the student sits with the crowd, while the teacher reads a very thin PowerPoint synopsis of the course material.

     Rather than waste time and money on oversize courses where the teacher is irrelevant, the student wishing an education would be better off just reading the textbook on his own time.

     Ultimately, higher education today is, for many students, devoid of education: they are prepared for nothing despite the shiny degree, which is why there are millions of degree holding waiters and waitresses (I grant that the economy is part of that, but many people with college degrees have no skills, academic or otherwise, from a higher education system that, according to educationists, is working exactly as intended).

     If you have a goal, and wish to be prepared to reach it, realize an education is the best way to become prepared. The quickest way to getting an education (and I make no claim becoming educated is a quick endeavor!) is through personal teachers. Gentle reader, please realize that higher education today offers very little for most people for achieving any goal whatsoever. 

     If you don’t have a goal, stay away from today’s higher education system until you know what you’re looking for, as it’s long forgotten the what and the why of an education. Instead, our higher education system takes people without goals, drains them of their wealth and youth, and leaves them with nothing but age and debt.