Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson

Educational value needs serious rebranding. Every time I encounter the subject of education it is invariably connected with the economy, how it is a vital economic engine providing trained human resources for business’ employment. That engine, however, is also extremely expensive. While public schooling is bottom-lined to no end, institutions of higher learning remain largely unaccountable. Potential earning power drives a rising educational debt crippling much of American life as many a strapped student continues eying that prize, unconcerned with how educationally shortchanged they really are.

Supposedly, formal education provides higher lifetime earnings. Higher earnings expand the economy, and an educated workforce is essential to how our national economy now functions. The entire discussion is all about the value of an education based on its ability to create material wealth.

That such an approach to learning might not best serve the individual or society, or the world beyond, is rarely voiced.

“Creating A Technological Buzz,” “Are Our Young People Ready?,” “Teachers Are A Bargain,” “Politics More Partisan Than Ever,” “ War Rages”. Such headlines should beg one’s attention towards connecting the dots, even if educational policy itself displays an entrenched disconnect.

Communities struggle to afford even the low tech education provided in the past. Teacher salaries are continually debated while technological “necessities” are green lighted as language programs, the arts, and humanities are pared down or eliminated. Society reels under an economic uncertainty where success has become a dicey prospect for those that risk investment in obtaining an education against all odds that it will lead to assumed financial achievement. Even for those that manage professional placement, many live out a life feeling underachieved in far more fundamental ways.

Physical and mental health, spirituality, social contracting and responsibility, simple joyfulness and the peace of self realization are discovered largely by extraeducational means beyond rote instruction, constant competition and the dubious self reflection of standardized testing.

Robert Fulghum posited: “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.” Google it. I came across it somewhere along in life, likely in a medical office magazine rack. Fortunately, I had an earlier education rooted heavily in the first two of the three Rs, and Sunday schooling. Back then, nobody knew the great value of a weighted STEM curriculum. Educators thought that most students weren’t going on to college or a sciencetechnology engineering-math based profession, and therefore attempted to instill a learning of history, enlightened thought, something called “social studies,” and an appreciation for the arts and language. Maybe that had something to do with the sizable societal rebellion of anti-establishment leaning graduating classes in the late-’60s-early-’70s. Maybe, it was from reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull by lava lamp light.

Who, back then, would ever envision an America where one could legally get Rockie Mountain High before dining out at a Vietnamese noodle bar?

Back then, education’s directive seemed to be to provide for a well rounded citizenry that could participate in a democratic process and a free economy, as fully as they might, interested in that process and confident that their part in all that would be an investment they could take to the bank.

Vocational-tech was once broadly stigmatized as an educational Plan B, but there are probably many degree holders that now wish they had professional knowledge of plumbing or auto mechanics. All education is valuable, and all honest work is to be respected. Still, this new mantra of tech driven economic salvation as an educational paradigm is sowing the seeds of a very unnourishing cultural harvest.

Once isolated “ivory towers,” many universities have now become economic “hubs,” acting as businesses and following a corporate model that rewards exalting the bottom line over the importance of human resources. Rather than safeguarding and championing academic discourse, they’ve become beholden to, and instructed by, corporate benefactors while treating degrees as commodities. What troubles me is that, as our educational institutions proceed along this path, our educators remain publicly silent. Harvard’s most touted alumnus is Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and he never even completed his sophomore year, so complete was his education by all current standards. In his junior year, Bill Gates also dropped out of Harvard. Steve Jobs never even completed his freshman year, so Reed College definitely rules over Harvard in academically dressing for success.

Religion, culture and language are the most divisive forces in today’s world, even more so than competition for materialistic ends. A society disinterested in bridging that divide continues at great peril. A democracy populated by fewer participants, ignorant of its basic workings and ill prepared to weigh real choices, is similarly at risk. The real bottom line is that education valued only as a means towards vocational success is really an affront to education’s core. Learning, as an ongoing way of life, is education’s principal purpose. It is all about a life of the mind which brings us together by questioning all that strives to conquer us by division. When was the last time you heard that argument for obtaining a degree?


Gary Anderson lives in Bath.

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