College. A time in most people’s lives involving a myriad of activities, some unmentionable on a class blog,
others being tamer, such as joining a club, becoming part of Greek life, playing a sport, and, of course, going to class and getting an education. That is, after all, what the $41,906 out-of-state tuition is supposed to pay for, right? The purpose of college is debated by many. I know I’m a little late on this blogging trend, seeing as most people decided to blog about Louis Menand’s Live and Learn around the time this blog was created, but I enjoy being fashionably late. I also think that a better question to ask when you’re up at 2 AM, having recently taken a biology exam and studying for the orgo exam the day afterwards is, “Why education?” rather than “Why college?” (You might also want to ask yourself why you thought orgo and bio during the same semester was a good idea.)
If you read Menand’s article, you’ll find three theories as to why students go to college: it’s a four-year intelligence test, it’s necessary to introduce students to material outside of what’s required for their career path, and that it’s purpose is to teach students what they need to know to join a career field.While these theories are all fine and dandy, to quote my high school AP U.S. History teacher (who has an audible New
Jersey accent, just so you can get the full impact of the statement), “You don’t go to college and make your poor parents pay for you to eff around and be silly for four years. You go to college to get an education.” The real question, then, and what we really need to think about and analyze is the purpose of education and how colleges fulfill that purpose.
In my last blog post, I spoke about education as a way to change the view that women are less than men, something is that is, even unconsciously, taught to children at a young age. After all, at least in the U.S., kids are required to go to school until age sixteen, so why wouldn’t we use that educational opportunity to take a chance to teach them that equality is a pretty cool thing? Things like this are starting to happen, as far as I can tell, with campaigns geared towards ending bullying, and classes being offered that focus on current events and question why those events happen. And though everyone might not all agree on health care policies or the best way to fix the U.S. economy, the U.S. is a pretty stable environment.
But where do we often find the most violence and instability? In countries where education is a privilege only those lucky enough to afford it can take advantage of, and of those families, many have to choose to educate just one of their children. (Quick question: If a family has to choose between sending their son or daughter to school, which one do they pick? If you guessed son, you’re right.) So, one of the reasons we get an education is to create an environment in which people can treat each others as equals, and so that everyone can reach their potential. If a girl whose family couldn’t afford to get her an education had gone to school, maybe she would have been able to solve key economic issues in her country.
Colleges enforce this overall institution of education by requiring students to take classes to fill distribution requirements (something that supports Menand’s theory 2). At the University of Michigan, one requirement students have to fulfill in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts is a race and ethnicity. We take this course “to prepare students to live and work in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial environment.” Courses that can fulfill this requirement are numerous, including women’s studies courses and LGBT studies courses. These types of courses teach equality to students who become the future of the world (cheesy, I know).
It’s great that colleges are beginning to focus on creating students who are engaged in their world and have the knowledge to change harmful societal ideals, such as the idea that just because some people look different, are a different gender, or a different sexual orientation, they are somehow lesser than others. However, I believe that education is most powerful with the youngest people. In fact, kindergarten is what I think truly makes an impact. Education is powerful when instilling values in the youngest children, because this is when kids are most malleable to new ideas. Most kids don’t start out thinking that different is bad; they are taught this from our society.
Menand’s article does bring up great and valuable points about the U.S. education system, but he focuses on the wrong question. Answering why we go to college is simple (education!), so the real question is what we hope to gain from our education and how we can change the world in a positive manner from that education.