Is Education a Scam? Or, I’m Not Waiting for Superman!

So many people are making a fortune, either politically or monetarily, or both by attacking education, and especially higher education. Yes, education is an easy target, and sometimes education, especially the education I love, liberal arts sets itself up for being picked on.

Recently I read an article at insidehighered.com about a smart young man, Billy Wilson who is dropping out f Kansas State even though he has a 4.0 GPA because he has decided college is a scam…..

My initial response is to him:

I did about the same 40 years ago. One of the two greatest mistakes of my life. I hope you wake up, or better yet, apply to transfer to Penn where you will meet people who will make you care about learning!

I was smart. School was boring. My professors were stupid. I could make more money driving a truck than I could with a four-year degree. The doors I closed for myself, the years of missed opportunities. Good luck with your business, but if you were at the right school in the right department, you would find a passion that would make you so enriched, even if you eventually started your own business.

Yes, higher education is expensive, but there are dozens of ways to get an education and not be buried when you get out. It is not a rip off. It is the greatest investment you can make in your life. Maybe Kansas State isn’t right for you, but somewhere is. FIND IT! Oh Billy!

I really appreciate the way Al Filreis, and ModPo at U Penn, and places like Coursera and the better institutions of higher learning in general, work to break down the walls of the ivory towers and get not just poetry, but complex thoughts about poetry, as well as other thoughts about thinking, out onto the streets and onto every molehill in Mississippi (speaking of a poet!)

To say education’s productivity is going down is way off base. Education produces thoughts, wild thoughts, disciplined thoughts, new thoughts, old thoughts re-examined. To the extent that too many people feel like my poor father did, “you go to college to make more money,” we are losing our “thought productivity”. This is the productivity that counts.

As long as there is Filreis and 100s, maybe even 1000s, or 10s of 1000s of teachers from grade school to college out there pushing thoughts and creativity, and not just how many more dollars you will make with an MBA compared to a high school diploma vs a high school dropout, we are on an ever-increasing path of productivity. The funny thing is, history has shown us we get not only better philosophers and poets, but better doctors and lawyers and engineers if we create a strong appreciation for thinking, and that is best done in a good liberal arts program.

If we continue this path of undergrad specialization, we create excellent robotic engineers and research scientists, but if we turn back towards making sure every engineer every accountant can paint a picture, can understand a painting, can write a poem, and can take a poem apart in a close read and then can understand how a painting might speak to a poem, then we have a true scientist or lawyer who has opened his/her mind “to the possibilities who dwells true in their groove until an amazing splinter shows them a new course,” a course the robot would have missed! This is the most productive form of education. This is the education we have to fight for every day in the face of “three ‘r’s” mentality! This is real educational productivity. This is how we beat cancer, fly to mars, save the earth, and of course how we write a poem for our mom’s on Mother’s Day. How bad is that?

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