Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How the way we do College is Ruining Lives

Education is an important thing. You have been told this over and over by your father, your mother, your grade school teachers, your high school football coach, and anyone that has ever inserted an opinion on your life. However what they are really saying is a college degree is really what matters, and it is true. That little piece of paper that says you spent several years of your life slaving over homework and textbooks is essential to anything you may want to do when you finally decide to join the grown-ups.

I'm not saying that getting a degree is not a worthy endeavor. I am not saying that the time and effort put into the degree isn't incredibly valuable experience. It is always a valuable experience to pursue anything that stretches your mind, and encourages growth. What I am saying is that we have slowly and surely fallen into some practices with the college system that we have that has far reaching and negative consequences.

The first thing that comes to my mind is one of the most personal to me, since I have found myself in a situation where it is really relevant. I am looking for a job. I have spent  the last several years working hard to raise my children, a task which I put my education on hold for. I have learned many things in the time I have been away from school, things which are just as valuable and relevant as what I can learn in a college classroom. I work to expand my mind by reading good books, and constantly learning new things. I work hard to manage a household and balance a budget. I could be an amazing asset to any company that hires me, but half of them won't even look because I have no degree. They have made college degrees necessary for everything except the most menial of tasks. My story may not garner much sympathy after all I am just an unemployed twenty something who dropped out of college, but let me tell you another story.

There once was a man who worked for 17 years in the computer industry. He was good at what he did, and very knowledgeable. When the economy got hit hard in 2001 after the destruction of the world  trade center he got laid off. For two years he sought to find a new job with nearly two decades of experience and glowing references, but there were lots of young twenty somethings who gone to college and that little piece of paper that they had meant that what the man had to offer was overlooked and thrown away. I understand that at the time there were hundreds of people applying for one position , and companies had to make cuts based on quantifiable evidence of employee quality, but the attitude "degree or see ya" has endured past the initial dip in the economy. Thankfully this story had a happier turn. The man bravely went back to college in his forties, and graduated a year after his oldest child graduated from high school. It was a proud moment for his whole family. He now has a pretty good job, but may be paying on his student loans for the rest of his life, which brings me to my second point.

As of September 2014 there were 40 million Americans up to their eyeballs in student loan debts. The cost of a good education has gone beyond the point of ridiculous to absolutely insane. From hundreds of dollars for textbooks, to the exorbitant amounts of money borrowed for tuition, recent college grads are drowning in debt. The money that they had to borrow for that little piece of paper that they worked so hard to get may in fact haunt them for the rest of their lives. The higher cost of education may well extend beyond the monetary. South Korea, a country that highly values education, is now encouraging students to drop out due to a lack of viable jobs. Employers are being encouraged to hire more people with only a high school education because the amount of money being put into these educations is not proving worth it. 40% of Korean college students are unable to secure employment after graduation. In the US nearly half of graduates are unable to get a job that requires a college degree much less in their own field of study. We push and push our children to go to college, but wind up having millions of people completely overqualified, and unhappy. I fear for my children and the cost of education for them in twenty or so years.

Speaking of children, our drive to get them to a superb education is seriously stunting children who would have otherwise been thought of as intelligent and gifted. From the moment that they step into a public classroom the creativity and ingenuity that they posses naturally is suppressed to fit them into a tiny test passing, college bound  mold. Programs like no child left behind and common core are leaving children behind and cutting the core out of the amazing human experiences that they could have had otherwise.  Children spend increasing amounts of time sitting at a desk instead of breathing the fresh air and exploring. They spend weeks preparing for standardized tests, instead of learning at a healthy and more fulfilling pace. There are a few children that come through our education with a minimum amount of scarring, but I fear that those numbers may decrease as they are constantly pushed towards more academic and less creative pursuits. Mr. Holland's Opus says it all very poignantly  'You can teach them to read and write, but if you take away the arts, what will they have to read and write about?'.

I believe in education. I believe in all education, the reading and the writing, the math and the science, the art and the music. I believe in college classes, and in the life experiences gained outside the classroom. I don't know the answers, but I know that they will never be solved if we continue to ignore them. It will never be solved if "an education" remains simply a way to go to college and get a job. We need to find a way to remove the stress and bring the joy back into learning.

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