Education in Debt

Posted Dec 30, 2002
Last Updated Oct 30, 2011

Ask a kid why he’s in school and he’ll likely give a predictable answer. He will more likely than not tell you that he’s in school because he has to be there just because… in other words, because his parents and teachers said so. More adept students will tell you they are in school so that they can have a better future; of this we might feel a sense of satisfaction—until we ask how school secures a better future; then we learn that students don’t see the education as a key to a better life, but the path to a better job.

I would never claim that good jobs are a bad thing; I would never claim that pay is a trivial concern when speaking of the value of a job. A job has an intimate value to a person’s life. It’s no trivial issue.

It is for this belief that the standard outlook on education and employment alarms me. It alarms me because, generally speaking, schools and parents play into a system that has made education almost irrelevant and trivial; our system has made the value of good jobs trivial.

When America decided that it ought to create a system of educating its young, it did so with the knowledge that education was a powerful social tool for improvement. Educational systems were formally established because the value of an educated mind was well esteemed. It’s inception probably formed with the idea of making the enviable life of the freeman the practical opportunity of all. Today, that dream has been lost; it’s not that we cannot find educated freedom… it’s that our time has ceased to care about that dream.

Education, as currently conceived, is this vast establishment comparable to a student factory. No longer is education about lifting the common man from the realm of dirty beasts and pushing gifted minds to the pillars of greatness. Gone are such times. Now the school exists as a de facto fulfillment of its own internal sustenance. The school was built to feed the minds of kids but has turned into a machine for processing kids and stamping its inflated value onto them. If not in belief, at least in action, today’s world sees the school as the reason for the kid.

I doubt that any parent, teacher or politician would ever utter a statement to the effect that kids exist for the continuation of schools. No one would ever feel that such a system is valuable or logical. But when you critically analyze the effects of schools and measure them against the stated goals of schools you can’t help but get a chill down your spine. Something is definitely wrong with American schooling.

Each American taxpayer pays thousands of dollars every year to put our kids in schools. The taxes collected pay for the buildings and textbooks and staffing of schools. Thousands of dollars each turns into billions of annual dollars at the statewide level. Billions of dollars every year, and we find that kids come out of high school feebly equipped to discuss intelligently the issues of their high-cost education. Most don’t know the purpose of higher mathematics; most can’t read at a high level of proficiency; the value of history and science is lost on most of them.

Kids coming out of high school generally don’t know what they want to do with their lives. The past twelve years of formal schooling have not prepared them to wisely decide where they will go for their lives—the high school graduate does not feel he is even educated. A high school diploma is the key to more schooling, not a mark of educational success.

So the high school graduate picks a university to attend. Here he will spend another two to ten years becoming educated. And more money goes into this. Thousands of dollars from parents’ bank accounts and federal grants and loans annually. That’s a lot of money.

And the students go to their classes, do their work, and go on. And just like in high school, the majority of these students play the game of turning in their work and cramming for tests and getting by with a good grade… and forgetting it all a month after the final test.

All this time, effort and money, and a net gain of a few random and disconnected facts regarding subjects most students (and parents) could care less about. When criticized, the teachers will tell you that you can only see the big picture if you have this formal schooling; that every possible subject in the world is essential to all students. When you point to the fact that cramming such a wide array of subjects into the uncaring minds of the masses produces a foggy and insubstantial effect in the minds of most people, the teacher will get offended and resort to maxims about the value of education.

There is no doubt in my mind that education is at the top level of valuable facets to human society and an individual’s life. But you cannot convince me that today’s schools are comparable to what was in the mind of men who formed our educational system. Thomas Jefferson would have been aghast to learn his ideas have been distorted into the schools of today.

Becoming educated means that you develop an appreciative and fond attitude towards learning, not getting a diploma that assures you know X, Y and Z. The student who has developed the proper attitude will learn ten times the knowledge of his peer, regardless of diplomas and certificates. Knowing X, Y and Z may be important, but the person who loves to learn will not stop learning when the alphabet ends… he will learn in every way possible without worrying about certificates; without that attitude, a person stops learning when he doesn’t have a carrot in front of him.

The illusion of the brilliance of today’s educational system should become clear to most people who have been through it. After years in the classroom, after tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, a graduate must come to terms with what he has learned. For way too many of the graduates, that means a wasteland of years spent focused on everything except the topic of education.

A school cannot make a person learn. So the blame is not all on the institutions. But seldom do you hear a school speak and admit that it is not a haven of guaranteed educational success; in fact, you often hear schools spreading the propaganda that says you cannot be educated if you don’t inhabit its halls (and fill its coffers).

Schools have great resources to teach people. But those tools are largely left improperly used, because the general conception of education has allowed people to assume that presence alone can make you learn—that if you only attend your classes and go through the motions you will pick up important knowledge. But it’s simply not true. Without the right attitude towards education… without a true love of learning… there is simply waste and drift.

So then people finally get out of school (whether a high school or college) and face this horrible truth: They must now make up for all the time and money they’ve wasted to get a diploma, since they really didn’t earn it. Most people coming out of school know this deep in their heart—that the time and money they’ve spent really wasn’t worth that piece of paper—and the proof of education it claims is not really so lofty.

Maybe they won’t say it out loud because they don’t want to admit they’ve made a largely erroneous assumption in their lives. But when they spend the rest of their lives trying to make up for the waste… it’s a fact hard to hide.

Schools have huge potential to educate the masses. But they are not magical realms where the normal rules of life can be ignored. Schools can only educate people well who want to learn. The problem is that most people feel that you need to pursue higher education in spite of how you personally feel about it. It’s backwards… and destructive.


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