Across the Educational Cusp

Closing in on the education thing is like falling into a gravitational singularity. From one observation point it takes forever; in another a shortness.It is not something that can be settled, indicating it is not so much a problem as a parameter. I recently – in the same time frame – ran across this article [Link] in the New Yawk Times entitled “The Imperiled Promise of College”. The author is a fellow by name Frank Bruni.

I mention the latter because Mr. (?) Bruni is engaging. Unlike many journalists today, and seemingly, the majority at large newspapers such as NYT, he is not coated with Teflon. I find myself unable to retain the far field with his writing, and while I do not agree with all his points, I find myself treating them with consideration and cognition.

“FOR a long time and for a lot of us, “college” was more or less a synonym for success. We had only to go. We had only to graduate. And if we did, according to parents and high-school guidance counselors and everything we heard and everything we read, we could pretty much count on a career, just about depend on a decent income and more or less expect security. A diploma wasn’t a piece of paper. It was an amulet.”

I do not recall college in the sixties when I was in high shule and undergraduate shule, as a synonym for success. It may have been for my parents inasmuch as my father had a yar and my mother only business ‘college’. For me it was a piece of reality. Attending college was not discussed; it was a given, a boundary condition, a cusp embedded in reality. Society expected it of the intelligent. After all, we – the Yankee republic – were locked in a Hobbesian struggle for survival with the communists and anyone with intelligence was supposed to go to college, and not major in useless things like business or arts. Either be a soldier or a techie, and preferably both. This was the era of containment and if you had better than a ‘B’ average in shule you better be going to college and getting a constructive degree.

Dropping out was cowardice and treason.

What could be discussed, as much as any discussion could occur between parents and children in those days, was the major. My father saw business as the only good study, my mother held out for medicine. I was alienated by my father’s choice; it was uninteresting, unpatriotic, and unsuitable to my temperament and I was so hurt by his advancing it that I felt betrayed and ignored. My mother’s choice was honored until I found it too was too flawed.

Income was unimportant, money was alien other than learning how to live on as little as possible, especially in the month or so when the semester began. Career was a word missing from our vocabularies, and security was almost as orthogonal, a mixture of youthful false immortality and an absence of adult mention. The diploma was only a symbol; what was important was what one’s major was. Engineers and scientists – nerds – were the elect; business and arts majors were failures dependent on family and social security. Teachers were valued only if they had ‘real’ degrees and got a certificate to teach as an afterthought. Education majors were those who had flunked engineering and business shule.

“I single out philosophy and anthropology because those are two fields — along with zoology, art history and humanities — whose majors are least likely to find jobs reflective of their education level, according to government projections quoted by the Associated Press. “

Some things have changed, other not. Even in my day it was acknowledged that philosophy was only good if one could find a college job teaching – rare then, rarer now – or wanted to become a statesman – not a politician – or a farmer. Anthropology was recognized in those days as the dirtiest of the sciences and only the true majored in it. Blame the upswing on the incorporation of academia and Indiana Jones.

Biology is not a bad field, but mostly in making medicine and gene engineering, not macrobiology. Art history was something that only rich gays majored in and the rich and genteel majored in the humanities. But at least they got an education and might go on to become librarians or something in the knowledge arena. But even then we recognized that we had to have something to do with what we learned. We were not mindless automata of learning. All of us had some idea of what we wanted to do after college. It might be impractical but we had an idea. I had the idea I could be employed doing research that was both beneficial and interesting (part of why I shy away from the word) but it never crossed my mind nor was I exposed to the idea that I might have some responsibility to generate money.

There were a few, a crushing few except in business, who had no idea of what they would do, or their idea was to fall back on working in the family business. Sadly most of these were party people who seemed to be selling their souls for a short happy college life before damnation unto death. Now, it seems the density has increased. When I was a student one preserved one’s textbooks in major and minor and even electives as reference. Now they are abandoned if bought in the first place. College has become a finishing shule, not a foundry.

I still am not convinced that education exists any more except in a few enclaves of medieval organization. I do ask if it has any value for the majority as a college discipline. Perhaps we need to embrace the idea of training just as if it were a trade shule and move on to making sure that some of the stupidity and human waste is discouraged?