I live in Wisconsin, where the University system is currently under attack, where the importance of studying how to teach well is being dismissed by legislative pen, where charter schools are exempt from making sure their teachers are not on the sex offender registry. All over my Facebook feed lately, I see articles, posts, and memes expressing the anger and frustration of friends who believe strongly in education. Some are teachers or professors, but many are technicians, administrators, and health care professionals. As one friend put it, quoting John Green, she may not have kids but she doesn’t like living surrounded by stupid people. I decided that I wanted to express my thoughts on this, but I knew it would be longer than a post or meme. It may not be directly related to the topics I normally share here, but it does touch upon the betterment of the self and society, so I brought it here:
Listen to the culture and you hear that education is about getting a good paying job. Another way of putting that is that we have come to see education as a way to create a product for businesses to consume. When we think like that, we have a tendency to go into manufacturing mode. How many of those widgets (graduates) can we produce per dollar? Education becomes a for-profit business instead of a way to improve society, or to improve the quality of the life of a given individual. This does a disservice to education, but more importantly, I believe it damages the psyche. This mindset objectifies people.The students are taught to think of their education only in terms of how the improvement of their mind can benefit the economy. They are encouraged to focus their studies on whichever subjects will give them the greatest economic return (the best paying job). The happiness of their soul is deemed less important than a higher income. The improvement of society is less important than the continual increase in the national GDP.
I was blessed with a liberal arts education in the Finger Lakes region of New York. There, I learned a deep respect for learning itself. I discovered that whatever degree was on the diploma did not matter as much as learning how to learn, learning how to apply my brain to analyze and evaluate all of the situations that life would throw at me. I learned that my education would become the foundation of a shelter during the storms of my life. It would become a source of refuge. I trusted that knowing how to think and analyze would put me in positions where I would not only earn a living, but make a life. I was encouraged to study both the sciences and the arts. I was taught to analyze what I read, and to question the assumptions of the authors. These skills have served me well over the years and eventually led to a career in Information Technology, doing things I love.
Since those days, I have watched the deterioration of the liberal arts. I see them denigrated and mocked. I have heard young people insist that a BA is not as good a degree as a BS, or an MA as valuable as an MS. It is so pervasive an attitude that I have even seen comics that dismiss those with a liberal arts degree as being somehow less smart.
The actions in Wisconsin that contribute to the dumbing down of our country did not begin with Scott Walker. This disrespect of education has become endemic in our culture and has been growing for decades. If we truly want to turn things around, we have to change our paradigm. We have to recognize that, as Franklin D Roosevelt said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” We put our money and attention into those things we value. If we value our democracy, we have to value those things that support and sustain it. Key among those is a well-educated population.