Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why college? Why education? Why learn?

In my previous blog I wrote about some college professors who I admired and respected.  As I think back on seven decades of life, my college experience started out okay but kept getting better.  I've pondered this reaction and wondered why.  My general thought was that as a freshman learner  I wasn't very good at all.   I still remember a graduate student in psychology teaching me how to underline important material in my textbook.  Whoa, mark up a book?  They never let me do that in high school.  I'm somewhat embarrassed as to my behavior during my undergraduate days.  That was long ago and I still weep mentally.   Some of those professors must have had hard duty.

But as I mentioned my college experiences kept getting better.  Parts of my master's studies were downright mind boggling.  I was in heaven.  It was hard work but I enjoyed it.  I still remember a elementary teaching colleague who asked me for help on some statistics for a research project one summer and I did the work and realized he didn't have enough data in certain categories to be able to do the statistical procedure.  I told him about his data short fall and he told me he get back to me on this.  He did the next day with enough data to finish the statistical work.  But I asked him where did these figures come from?  He had made them up--"why go to the trouble of doing more measurements when you already knew what you wanted."  Jack went to a different college and I wondered if anyone would ever find this ethical problem.  I doubted it....but was comfortable that my own professors would have made me do it over.  I learned.

Recently there was a major article in the New York Times that asked the question, "Is College Necessary?"  And then it went on showing the number of jobs that was available that did not require a college degree.  In one example, the writer noted that his mailman had a bachelor of arts degree which was not necessary for the job and the cost of his degree might have gone to buying a house in a good neighborhood.

It seems to me that we have the age old question, "What are you going to teach me?  OR What am I going to learn?"  Are college degrees necessary for getting a job or for improving oneself.  I have always argued for the latter.  College is not a job placement procedure, it is a self improvement procedure.  It is an attitude adjustment.  Much knowledge of which we learn will be out of date during our lifetimes but our improvement to self will still be in good standing, even if you aren't (standing).

Another article in the Huffington Post counterpoints the New York Times, "Is College Necessary?" It was written by Jeff Brenzel, who is Dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale University.  He hasn't been at this position for long and the class of 2010 will be the results of his first admissions.  It's a good article (blog?) and I can recommend it.  "To the class of 2010."  Toward the end he asks some good questions of this years graduates but I thought the questions were good enough to share with you.  They made me think....even tho' ol' blue eyes suggestion that I am in the September of my life.

Here are Mr. Brenzel's questions.....and some reflections of mine.

 Are you graduating with broader views of what you might do in life compared to the ideas you had when you arrived?  As a senior of some standing, I do think I have gathered broader views then when I first graduated years ago but I have miles to go...
• To what degree have you learned how to lead by subordinating your own ambition to the common good, rather than vice versa?  I'm comfortable with this question.  Broad goals are essential because life keeps changing.
• Have you mastered a mode of inquiry, or developed anything that could constitute a permanent and fertile source of intellectual interest?  I wonder about this one.  I sometimes think I am narrowing my focus for the ease of thinking.  Not good.
• How much more did you contribute to classes and organizations and jobs than you took from them?  I am afraid in recent years I have dropped out of organizations because it has become difficult to understand the changes that are going on.  Poor marks on this one.
• Have you as yet loved anyone or anything beyond reason?  To a fault.  Perhaps too much.
• Have you learned how and why to risk a serious, public failure? Done that--several times with egg on my face.  The hard part is getting up again and trying to go forward after you failed.
• How well can you sustain a determined, focused and disciplined attempt to solve an important problem?  In my mid seventies, sustaning is the hard part of life.  It is easier to sit down and read my kindle.
• How much more inclined and more able are you to recognize and appreciate real genius, whatever its mode of expression?  I can recognize real genius but sometimes it hurts.  I wish I had some sort of talent or intelligence.  
• What have you become willing to do without getting paid, graded or recognized?  I've tried to do this much of my life.  It gets harder as you go.  Recently I found out that something that I had started at my university is now being attributed to someone else.  It hurts.  But the real question for me is can I overlook this?  I don't know.....yet.
• How much room have you been able to leave for the inconvenient exercise of compassion, kindness and generosity?  I wonder, I wonder.  Do I measure up?  I don't know--tough question.
These are the questions--you need to ask yourself what are the answers.  Are you still growing intellectually?  It is hard looking into the mirror.
Thanks to all my teachers and university professors who helped me, pushed me, encouraged me to go beyond my self-imposed limits.  It is breath taking.  Thank you again.

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