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« See you in Minneapolis this fall | Main | 80% of success »
Friday
Aug262011

College: more than vocational school?

From an editorial is this week's Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Education includes knowledge, certainly, and knowledge is in fairly short supply these days to be sure. But education includes so much more.

When it is time to "send" our 18-year-olds to college, they ought to go off, preferably some distance, and live in a dorm -- to their and their parents' great relief. It is time to signal the arrival of adulthood in a dramatic way. Dropping new students at the dorm is a sacrosanct rite of passage.

They need to do theater, music, debate, and intramural sports. They need to be a part of the late-night bull sessions over pizza and proscribed beer in the hallway.

They need to spoon the green beans to impatient students in the college commons and learn to argue effectively with the registrar.

They'll learn as much from each other as they do from their professors because they will spend more time with their peers and -- with some luck -- form a valuable network that will last a lifetime. In a word, education is a rich package that should involve the entire person. Larry J. Crockett "Online education doesn't measure up"

The "value" of a college education has recently become a hotly debated topic. Respected thinkers such as Will Richard are openly asking whether they will encourage their own children to attend college. Given the cost of higher ed and uncertainty of job acquisition, one should be doing a cost/benefit analysis, I suppose. Can the tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in college costs/loans ever be recouped through the possibly higher wages of a professional career? Is higher education a good "investment?"

I've been giving this a lot of thought because my own son has had some higher ed decisions to make. After cramming a two year AA degree in film production into just four short years and taking a couple years to get a cultural experience living in Wellington, NZ, Brady is now back at a state university working on a BA in graphic design. The betting pool is not for when he will finish, but who among those betting will still be alive to collect.

Yet, I am very, very happy he is going and not because I think he will necessarily be more employable or make more money or attain a "professional" status. College is - or should be - more than an expensive vocational school. In most of the discussions I hear, people seem to have forgotten this.

As Mr. Crockett opines above, college should be a whole-person experience. Learning should be as much about stretching one's mind as focusing on a discipline. It should be about taking intellectual risks, arguing for argument's sake, learning the pleasures of subversion, and doing a wild thing now and then. As Sydney Harris once wrote, "The primary purpose of a liberal education is to make one’s mind a pleasant place in which to spend one’s leisure." It seems that in our nervousness about unemployment, loss of world economic status, and holy pursuit of amassing piles o' money, we hear little about education's role in making people more interesting, more engaged, and more human.

After just a week or two into his freshman year, Brady came home tossing around terms like "violating the fourth wall" of theater. I was tickled. I doubt this understanding will ever contribute to his paycheck's size, but it willl give him an interesting way to analyze a production for the rest of his life.

Maybe I am just tired this warm Friday evening, but when did our culture start finding value in only those things that have monetary value? Are the joys of leisure, the pleasures of travel, or the satisfaction of a good conversation with old friends over a cheap glass of wine just lost in the hubbub of stock market values, housing bubbles and tax fairness that blares constantly in the media?

Send your kids to college. Please. But do it for the right reason.

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Reader Comments (2)

Having a high school sophomore this year, we are in the beginning stages of college research and choice. And at Oaks (the high school I work at), the idea of going to college is assumed.
Two thoughts - how different is a college education viewed between a male and a female? I personally grew up with a general idea that boys need to "do something" while girls need to "be someone". Although my parents did not force anything upon me, they believed that their three boys needed to be doing something productive, and that was an important part of boys being involved in higher education. My three sisters were also expected to go to college, but to become
better people.
Could it have been that my parents also assumed that the three girls would get married and become a one-person income, raising another big family? Could be.
I expect my daughters to attend college, but realize that there are options (community college, online classes, a year off after high school) and hope that I am able to encourage them to do what they really want to do.

August 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Hi Kenn,

I think your last line says it all, "...I am able to encourage them to do what they really want to do." This is probably the most difficult but most important part of being a parent - recognizing and honoring the difference between our children and ourselves.

Oh, I was very hopeful my daughter would get a good education. I did NOT want her to be dependent on a husband!

Doug

August 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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