Rethinking education

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Whenever I start bitching about the undergraduates in the class I assist for, Eric likes to remind me that I was hardly a mature, responsible undergrad myself. True, I didn't answer my cell phone three times during class - instead I just didn't go. There were courses I just plain blew off or half-assed in ways I would never dream of now. I'm horrified by the memory, and I think I have a massive need to do well in grad school to redeem myself as a student and regain my academic self-respect.

This got me thinking though.

A lot of why I work so hard is that I am paying for this myself. When I graduate, I will have massive debt, and I'd damn well better have the caliber of job that I can manage that while moving forward with my life.

Another reason is that I know what life is like without this degree. I've worked at menial, low-wage jobs with no possibility for advancement, I've borrowed heavily from others, and I've lived hand-to-mouth. I worked long enough and hard enough to make good and sure I will never settle for "enough to get by" again. I know what my time is worth, and I know how important it is to apply myself now.

I think about how much more valuable and productive my undergrad education could have been had I had those experiences before.

I wonder, if the students I see now worked for a few years between high school and college, would so many treat their undergrad as Thirteenth Grade? Would those who don't really have any business being in college decide they're happier continuing as bartenders or what have you, and leave room (and even scholarship money) for hard-working, more dedicated people?

Without the motivation of paying back student loans (or parents hollering about how much they spent on that degree), would people in their 20s be happier sitting back and slacking off for less money, leaving jobs open for those who are genuinely interested in getting ahead in a given field?

I can't really say, but it's an intriguing question. I see so many people (my undergraduate self included), who have no idea about the world, justify protracted post-adolescent angst and immaturity with vague concerns about not being able to get a job once they graduate, and use this as an excuse to not even try. What if we were called out and not given the opportunity to pursue a degree until we were actually mature and disciplined and worked out our personal issues by getting fired a few times? The same way that employers won't often take on people who have never worked before, some demonstration of maturity and integrity seems in order for undergraduate admission. Passing through a watered-down compulsory education tailored to the lowest common denominator hardly seems adequate to me.

I believe very much in education, including liberal arts education, not just for the practical ability to get a better job (since a bachelor's is no longer the ticket to financial success), but for the ability to go through the world in a more open-minded, intellectually curious way. But I can honestly say it's not for everyone, and there are a lot of people diluting the seriousness of purpose and legitimacy of a degree when I'm sure there are smarter and more talented kids out there who can't afford college.

So what to do?

One thing I do know is that if I ever find myself in a teaching position again, I will likely be one of the stricter and more demanding professors my students will ever have. Honestly, someone's got to check them into reality.

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This page contains a single entry by Vicki published on November 16, 2006 11:19 PM.

Seeing ourselves was the previous entry in this blog.

What I'll be doing this weekend is the next entry in this blog.

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