The Value of an Education, Perhaps

I spent this morning reading some of an essay by Heidegger, copying down a poem of Yeats’ into the journal (yes, I keep a pen and paper one). There’s Plato’s Gorgias to finish reading, and try to put together with the Protagoras and the Greater Hippias. I’m very happy with how the third part of that Protagoras commentary turned out: it’s a good enough starting point for more work on the dialogue, and still solid enough for a jumping point into other dialogues.

Of course, sitting in a place I promote are something like 10,000 forum posts saying that college is worthless, the humanities especially are a waste of time, we don’t need any more professors, classwork is just busy work, etc. The older I get, the harder I find it is to state what makes an education valuable.

I guess my defense of getting an education nowadays is: without it, you see a lot less of life. A few of you who are older have commented to me personally how little this blog concerns itself with me whining about relationships, and to some degree, even less with the state of academia. I think that’s because there’s just too much awesome stuff to look at and share (and that’s not to say I’m particularly virtuous: it’s to credit the “stuff” more than me. Everyone’s aware I can whine and throw tantrums with the worst of them). In my experience, people who spend time putting down the humanities don’t usually have a lot to talk about, aside from themselves.

Anyway, it’s just a thought. The issue is: do you think this rhetoric has any chance of convincing surly 16 year olds, who I suspect are writing the forum posts?


  1. First off, I’m probably older than you (at 51) and I’m glad you’re publishing this blog. If you feel like commenting on ‘whining about relationships’ I see no problem. To me, that falls well within the subject matter you mention in the blog’s subtitle.

    As far as ‘10,000 forum posts saying that college is worthless, the humanities especially’ – I believe there have always been a disproportionate percentage of the population who feel the way expressed in these comments. Only recently have they been able to make their voices heard in unison.

    Those folks will never accept the value of a ‘college’ education, regardless how it’s laid out for them. They’re not rejecting Education itself, simply the formalized version of it. Some of them will undoubtedly become very educated over the course of their lives.

    In my family of 7 siblings we boast varying levels of formal education from PhD to high school dropout. There are times when the drop-out can best the PhD in conversations as convoluted as economics or literature.

    (And before anyone starts bringing up financial success, the PhD does make more but travels 75% of the year, and the drop-out brings home a tidy sum around 150k, home every night.)

    I guess what I’m trying to say here is this: Formal education is invaluable to those of us who see the utility of it, and want to take advantage of all it has to offer. But for the majority of folks on this planet, it’s just not that crucial.

    It all makes for a very complete and interesting world.

  2. You’ve redecorated! I like it!

    We have trouble keeping our 20 year old in school but not because he thinks education is worthless. He’d just rather skip the learning and get on with the doing!

    I’m not sure who said it but I have heard a quote, “He who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it!” If for no other reason … I think the humanities will always have educational value!

  3. Hmm, I really don’t have anything insightful to add, but to answer your question; no, I don’t think there is any way at all to convince a 16-year old convinced of the worthlessness of college otherwise. That does not mean that they won’t find out on their own. I’ve probably said this 50 times now, but when I was in undergrad I constantly wanted to drop out, I thought I was wasting my life and that I should be holding a real job somewhere in the real world (rather than my student assistant-ship in an artificial environment).
    It wasn’t until considerably later that I realized that “real jobs” sucked, that “real life” was mind-numbingly boring and that “real people” were more often than not non-stimulating. Those of us who get to go are lucky.
    On the other hand, those who have a genuine passion for learning will do it regardless, and will seek out like-minded people.

  4. Those of us who love to learn will continue doing so no matter what. Some 16 year olds are mature and understand what life really is like while others have no clue and will only change when they suffer the consequences of not having an education.
    My oldest son is 13 and he knows the value of an education. I always show him the reality of life without one. I think that by talking to them they will open their eyes.
    In relation to what you write about.. It’s your blog and so if you feel like writing about relationships that’s exactly what you should do. Just be yourself and you will attract an audience that resonates with what you have to say.
    All the best,

  5. I never specifically used my BS Economics degree. Often this is the case – people don’t work in a job directly related to their degree. I would have to say I’m self-taught on most of what I actually do today for work. Was it a waste of time? Absolutely not. My exposure to computer programming had a great affect on what I chose to do.

    College does offer the exposure to many different things that you would miss without an advanced education, and that can’t be underrated.

    Some people, for example Bill Gates, can drop out of college and do fine. They continue learning their whole life…in other words creating their own college education..they are only missing a piece of paper. I have to believe Bill Gates was studying, reading, and researching every bit as much as if he were in college when building Microsoft.

    I think having that piece of paper..the degree is still important and will still insist that my children move on to college. The thing to keep in mind is that some people have a thirst for knowledge and learning that doesn’t have to come from an assignment, and they are typically the type to go on to invent new technology and create companies. We cannot be to quick to judge those who do not pursue that avenue since some great minds have created great things without an official degree.

  6. Having taught at the college level (and going back to teach starting on Sept 11) I can tell you I’ve seen bright and not-so-bright come through the system.

    I always say, “You get from an education what you take from it.”

    I listen to Weird Al, not Mozart, and fancy myself as an intellectual.

  7. I definitely think that the college experience is just that, an experience. I am currently pursuing my Masters but I can tell you that most of the things I learned were just concepts.

    College really did help me discover myself and the things that I enjoyed. I would never tell anyone to NOT go though.

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