A common complaint regarding a college education is the obscene amount of time spent learning material that will prove to be essentially useless in terms of future employment. The so-called “busy work” that is so fundamental to many classes is, unarguably, a waste of time. The problem is that people expect a college education to teach them valuable information that will later be a fundamental part of their lives.
That presupposition is largely untrue.
I can count the number of classes that I”ve taken that I have walked away from with a reasonably deeper understanding of the subject on my fingers.
A solid 90 percent of the classes taken in college are filler meant only to fulfill an arbitrarily defined credit requirement. That”s not to say that there aren”t any courses worthwhile I have taken several courses (mostly upper-level) on very specific areas that I have a genuine interest in. The rest, however, is predominantly non-creative memorization of facts and theories that barely contribute to my education.
Most of what I”ve learned here has been outside of a classroom. That is, I suppose, a given I spend all of four hours a day, minus weekends, holidays and the grotesque amount of times I”ve skipped, in school. I would actually feel like I am wasting my youth and cheating myself out of valuable time if I didn”t learn more outside of school. Beyond that, the fact of the matter is that any book that I read in a classroom can easily be read outside of a classroom. Universities don”t have a monopoly on information.
But it stands to reason that I would then be prompted to ask myself why I am putting in the time, effort, and money into an institution from which I don”t feel I am learning anything above and beyond what I could easily learn on my own, given a certain level of intellectual curiosity and a drive to read on my own.
If I learn more from “real life,” why am I putting any effort into academia?
And the answer is simple. Organized learning doesn”t teach us valuable information, it teaches us a valuable skill: The ability to discipline ourselves in order to undertake tasks that we abhor.
A degree doesn”t signify that a graduate has some vast array of knowledge it signifies the willingness and the discipline to play a game, follow the rules, apply one”s self and succeed. There are a few people, interested in post-graduate work for example, that retain the information gained in college in order to excel in their future endeavors. However, these people are essentially continuing their lives in academia, and it is questionable (unless they aim to go into research and/or teaching) whether their further studies will truly contribute to their education.
So what about those people who are simply in college for four years, seeking a degree? What about the people who see college as simply a segue between high school and “the real world?”
What a degree does signify is that the holder of said degree is capable of applying himself toward tasks that he has no interest in. There”s a correlation between better universities and a better work ethic the harder a college is, the more detailed the information that must be digested is. It stands to reason that memorizing more complicated details about mundane subjects requires a greater level of discipline, which is a marketable skill.
Not to say that college life is complete discipline at all times. A few Wednesday bar-hops, a few Thursday night house parties and a Friday trip to East Lansing ought to be enough proof that college life isn”t the suit-and-tie business world that many aspire to. But the fact that we juggle such obscene amounts of (often illegal) entertainment, while at the same time remembering the poli sci reading due Monday is a testament to the ability of college students to handle responsibility.
In the end, that”s what a diploma means. Pseudo-intellectual debates about a Greek tragedy isn”t a sign of what was learned in college anyone can read a book, with or without an incredible investment in tuition. It”s the fact that college students can handle a certain amount of credit hours in a certain amount of time (preferably four years, possibly five years, sometimes six years) that proves their worth as employees.
This may seem like an extremely negative view of what we”re doing here.
And I may be misrepresenting some people who actually have a passion for sitting in a classroom and being fed material.
But considering the number of people who consistently complain about being in college, it only makes rational sense that the underlying reason for being here is not because of a genuine interest in learning. Academia is an investment, without a doubt, but it is not an investment in one”s mind.
It is an investment in one”s human capital their marketability to future employers. Anything that can be learned in college can be learned outside of it, but independent learning does not afford a person with the final prize, the final purpose of this game. A diploma.
Manish Raiji”s column runs every other Tuesday. Give him feedback at www.michigandaily.com/forum or via e-mail at email@example.com.