I have had it. This conversation about the value of college has gone absolutely off the rails. I’m so ticked this morning I’m having trouble writing coherently. I guess this makes sense, because anger is rooted in fear, and I have finally become terrified for the future of education in the United States.
I found a book review in Time the other day of Michael Ellberg’s much anticipated The Education of Millionaires. You can read the brief article and check out the absolutely infuriating comments here.
It’s worth reading, but if you’re not going to, you know need to know that Gregorian’s article is plastered with comments from young men skewering him for pointing out that:
…what is forgotten in the discussion about dollars and cents is that the purpose of education, whatever its cost or its source, is not simply to enable one to earn a living but to prepare one for living over the course of an entire lifetime with all the ups and downs that come our way.
News Flash! Education is about preparation for living. It’s about WHAT THE HELL YOU DO ALL DAY. Education is about why you bother to get your ass out of bed, how you choose to spend your time, what you value, and how you interact with the world. It’s reflected in how you treat others—people you know and people you don’t. It’s reflected in what you have to offer the world, in the quality of work you do.
It’s also reflected in the puzzling and ubiquitous choice to subsist on a diet of ramen or BigMacs and own a 62” television with a full cable package instead of investing in nutritious food and a library card.
It’s pretty easy to make college the target: I’m sure any minute now we’ll see “I have a $120,000 degree and all I got was this lousy sweatshirt” hoodies sold on street corners. But we’re not really fighting about college, people!
We’re having a big, embarrassing, ugly fight about what we value.
If you think about it, it makes all the sense in the world that Gregorian’s readers think he’s a nut for thinking education is about preparation for life. After all, the cultural message we’ve been sending to students for decades hasn’t been saying anything like that. We’re finally seeing the product of several generations of Americans who have grown up in a consumer culture whose public education system has told them that the point of their educations is to grow up and get a job so they have money to spend on useless shit.
When the majority of signifiers of success and glory that we present to kids are based on things that don’t require excellence (Ms. Spears and Mr. Bieber, anyone?), how could we suddenly expect excellence to suddenly matter to them? When we worship people for being beautiful and rich, not skilled and productive, why would anyone aim to be anything but beautiful and rich? Why would anyone think an education is worth anything more than the salary it puts back in their pockets?
Expensive education is laughable when the national cultural ethos revolves around Kim Karadshian and Snookie (who, unlike me, is a New York Times Bestselling Author).
Gregorian probably could have chosen a better phrase than the “ups and downs” of living. It’s a bit gee-whiz for talking about the Stuff Of Life. But that’s what’s coming to a head here. College has become an easy Wizard to stand up to, but we should be a hell of a lot more concerned with the directionless values and lever-pulling that’s going on behind the scenes that’s making us think that way.
The aftermath of dismissing an exploratory, art and literature filled education is not only going to hit each one of us in the wallet when our economy can’t keep up in global competition, but it’s also going to continue to hit us where it matters more, in the head and the heart.
In rallying about the uselessness of true education we forget why To Kill a Mockinbird is as relevant now as it was sixty years ago. We argue that the Disney Concert Hall is as important as a storage facility–never mind Ghery’s exterior. We tell Sydney Poitier to stick it and Sally Mann to hang up the camera. We tell Steve Jobs that Apple could be ugly and get along just fine. We tell 826 Valencia not to bother teaching urban youth to write creatively and Art Basel Miami to shut its doors.
We tell women to stay home.
We tell children to be seen and not heard.
Instead of lambasting someone for thinking that higher level education is about preparation for living, maybe we should shut our big traps for a second and consider that maybe it is.