Higher Education for All?

SAT scores have been falling steadily for the last ten years, roughly since the last time the test was revised. Out of this last batch of students, less than 42% passed, indicating that fewer students are college-ready. People are worried about the effectiveness of high school education and the difficulties disadvantaged youth have succeeding in school. The College Board is planning to revise the exam again, and I fear it will be revised downward, which is no solution at all. Although the education system does need to be improved, and the social injustice that causes socioeconomic disadvantage must be eliminated, I believe there is more to the problem than that.

The values in this country are skewed. College is not for everybody, but nobody wants to believe that. Americans want to think that hard work will get anyone wherever they want to go, regardless of a person’s personality, health, intelligence, or natural abilities. It is far more soothing to believe that one is in control of one’s destiny than to face the unpleasant reality that one is limited, just like everyone else. The truth is, not everyone is capable of rigorous intellectual work, and that’s ok. The bulk of the work that actually needs to be done is not intellectual, and the people who do this work should be valued for the important contribution they make. Parents push their children to college so they can get a “better” job. This means a higher salary and more prestige, as well as less physical labor for their children. Although this is nice for individuals to achieve, I wonder what would happen if all the people who wanted to could get these “better” jobs; who would do the real work that must be done? People could prepare for most jobs by going to a trade school. Everybody needs to make their own contribution to society, and should not force themselves into an artificial conformity.

The striving for a “better” job is also a rather poor reason to get a college education. Many students who attend college are there only because they’ve been told they need a degree to get a good job, and actually have no interest in learning. The college experience for them is made up of arduous and unfulfilling learning activities, interspersed with much more enjoyable social activities. They hope to get through somehow and magically get a high-paying job at the end. The real reason one should go to college is to learn. College is for learning a discipline in depth so that people can make a contribution to society in their field. Recent scientific breakthroughs illustrate just how important higher education is – finding water on Mars, discovering that a common worm can break down plastic, discovering how to use platelets to deliver drugs, discovering a new species of homo in South Africa, development of an easy and affordable virus test – we need able, intelligent people to be educated well in order to further progress such as this.

For this reason it should not be easy to get into college. We should want those who complete college to be truly expert in their field, not just passed on so they can fit the current social conventions. The SAT should remain difficult, and the primary and secondary education system should not lower its expectations of students. Rather, the schools should prepare the students as fully as possible, and the placement exams should be honest, so the students can have reliable feedback. Life is not about competition for the best jobs or the bigger house or the most money; it is about cooperation and everyone enjoying a good quality of life. We need to maintain the integrity of higher education while also truly valuing the physical labor done by most people, the people who provide the basic things we all need to survive. There should not be the terrible economic disparity between those with “good” jobs and those who labor; all should enjoy the benefits of society and the fruitfulness of our Mother Earth.

 

Copyright © 2015 Teresa Chupp.  All rights reserved.

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