Posted by: Magistra | May 22, 2006

Once Upon a Time, There was College

It looks like my brother isn't going to get his Bachelor's degree, at least not anytime soon. He just finished his eighth semester (aka fourth year), and has enough units, but not enough in his major. I'm not going to pretend to understand all the personal, social, and environmental factors influencing his choice, and I don't agree with his decision, but one of them in particular resonates with me.

College isn't all it's cracked up to be.

What do we say to all the people for whom high school isn't the best time of their life? We promise them that if they just get through it, then they'll get to College. And College will be full of people they can't even imagine meeting, completely different and just like them all at the same time. In College, they'll have professors who challenge their intellect, they'll read fascinating works that question assumptions, they'll stay up all hours of the night having deep, philosophical chats in the hallway, and they'll make personal life-long connections.

What we don't tell them is that somewhere along the line, College stopped being like that. I guess I don't really know that it ever was like that. But I look at my father and his friends, and I listen to what he says when he talks about being in college (1974-78), and there's an intellectual quality to those stories that I haven't found.

I don't want to pretend to speak for all collegians everywhere, but at the same time I feel like I've had a wide range of college experiences: two years at a small, private liberal arts college in California; two and a half years at a large, public university in Western Australia; and now I've returned to a different part of California, at another large, public university.

Nobody wants to be Renaissance Man, everybody hopes to become a Corporate Shareholder. And that's not what education is supposed to be about. I didn't go to college to be taught "job skills." I went there to learn how to think. Not what to think, but how to think. Even if it was about employment, that's the best job skill anyway. So when my brother gets frustrated with the vocational tilt to his major, I sympathize. When everyone around you is more interested in how this looks on their resumé, or how much money they'll make when they graduate, it's frustrating.

This time around, I have a different attitude. I know getting a teaching credential is a vocational step. I'm trying not to be frustrated with my professors and fellow students, but I still wish more people wanted to talk about ideas. It's not that I never want to talk about the application of ideas (what are we studying, if not the world around us?), but I want to talk about the why's and not just the how's.

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