Friday, August 7, 2009

Going to school to make money?

Everyone knows that money is very important.

Everyone equally believes that "money does not buy happiness."

But many people, including many"important" people, do not understand that, however important money is, a lot of things are much more important.

Take love.

Take friends and family.

Since summer is slowly coming to a close and schools are starting again, it is time to think about the importance of education. Many people -- important people like legislators or college presidents -- keep telling us that the goal of education is to equip people to fill the jobs in the community. In other words, education is valuable only for the money. If it should turn out that the price of education is higher than the money it would bring in, you would be better off being uneducated and ignorant. If school does not make you rich, remain ignorant.

But surely that is not right. Ignorance is not justifiable. It is not bliss, it is not good under any conditions. So we need to think some more about why education is good. It is not just good for the money it might help you earn.

Education may get you a better job – a job that may not pay more but that is much more interesting. But jobs are interesting only if you are interested in what the job provides. You must first be interested in things before a job can be interesting to you. School may benefit you by opening your mind and arousing your interests in all sorts of things you did not even know about before. The benefit here is being interested. An interesting job may not pay terribly well but it leaves you feeling that you did not waste your time doing it. That is worth a lot.

Think of a young couple who settled down to have several children. Often it is the mother who stays home to bring up their children; but these days frequently also the father quits his job to stay home with small children and look after the house. Was their education wasted because they do not have the job the education supposedly prepared them for? A good education should equip you to be a better parent.

An education that prepares you for a job but does not prepare you to live your life well is a very poor education indeed. If all you learn is how to keep books, how to manage employees, how to invest money, or how to draw up a business plan, your school did not give you value for your money. A good school will communicate to you the excitement of learning new things. It will give you an understanding of a larger world in which many exciting things go on which you might want to know about or participate in. A good school will enlarge your horizon.

An education will expand the scope of your interests. After work is done there will be many other things you want to do or experience that you learned about in school. Away from your job there will be many things you will want to share with family and children. When the work life comes to an end and you look at another 20 years or more of healthy life, you may spend 20 years in front of the tube, mowing the lawn or walking the dog, or you can keep busy with many different interests and activities some of which you first encountered in school.

Traditionally, in the US, education for everyone was thought to be important because everyone was going to vote and, as a citizen, participate in public deliberations. If the country was going to be run by all adult citizens—to be sure for a long time only adult white males—all citizens must be as well educated as possible. They needed to know American history, they needed to know something about science and they needed to be citizens whose minds were as well developed as possible, who would think as clearly as possible about national and local affairs. Education for most of our history was not about money but about being free by running our own country.

Today college presidents assure the business community that our college are turning out future employees well prepared for the jobs there are. Our students are no longer considered as future citizens learning to be autonomous and helping to run the country. They are now looked at as employees, as people who take orders, and for that, get paid.

When education serves only to make money, democracy and our traditional freedoms are in danger.