College – the glorified trade school

Apr 8th, 2009 | By | Category: Blogs, Columns, Opinions

Nathanael Edward Bassett


Neil Postman was a brilliant culture critic who proposed the theory that American education has had different “gods” at different times, reasons for education and a purpose towards learning. The “old gods” as he called them, were a sense of virtue in learning. The United States was formed by a group of men who strongly believed in the cause of education and its essential value to retaining personal liberties and freedoms.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of
civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
--Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816.

People who had been introduced to ideas and discussion, studied sciences and had an understanding of their place in the cosmos and history were better able to defend their liberty, stand for their rights and govern themselves.

Unfortunately, Postman says this old god is dead, and now, the cause and reasoning for education is mostly directed to what he calls “economic utility.” This simply means that if you study hard and go to school, you’ll get a decent job and make lots of money. This also serves another god, materialism; the belief that the important things in life are what you own and that you enjoy your economic prosperity by satisfying your whims and wants.

stupidMost people know that simply studying hard in school isn’t enough, and that high school mostly gives you a shot of managing the Burger King instead of flipping the burgers. So some of you go to trade school, and some of you go to college. This is where we get to a new point.

Most (if not all) colleges require you take courses in things that don’t necessarily matter to your intended profession. Going into English? “Why do I need to take this algebra class!?” If you’re a chemistry major you might think it’s stupid to have to write essays for a sociology course. And many of us view college as a way to train for an intended career – with degrees in nursing, marketing, accounting, computer science, criminology or journalism.

If you’re a physical education major, it’s fairly obvious what you want to do with your life. For others who study philosophy and history, I’m sure you’ve had parents and friends who said, “What are you gonna do with that?!” And if you study math or English, most people write you off as someone who’s going to be stuck teaching public school.

What we’ve lost is the notion that college is about expanding our consciousness and experiencing the diverse breadth of knowledge and understanding across the world. By that I mean, there is far more to our lives that the cubical many of you are destined for. And you don’t have to go there if you don’t want to. College can be a great way to expand your mind through unique opportunities. Why do I say that? Because studying “soft” sciences, like sociology, or “cake” courses likeĀ  history, literature, and maybe philosophy, are an excellent way of learning ethics, a much needed value in today’s marketplace of ideas and business.

There are plenty of jobs out there that just want a BA, but no matter what you do, you have to prove yourself as a capable and unique individual. To stand out among your peers, find a study that talks to you, and somehow changes the way you think about things. If you’re shelling out your tuition for a desk job, take the time to consider the alternatives. Otherwise, college might as well be about fixing cars and learning carpentry. Granted, not all of us are cut out to do more than that, but it shouldn’t stop you from trying to aspire to more than life’s got in store for you.

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