22 July 2016

Education

In a recent afternoon  conversation around a patio table, the topic shifted to higher education. I said that there was a time when intelligent young people picked subjects they were interested in. They weren't so focused on the careers that would follow after their years in university. These remarks caused a ripple of chortling hilarity - as if I was implying that such choices had been dumb or self indulgent. In our wisdom we could surely all see that  higher education is principally about getting a good job in the end.

The others sitting round the table had misread me. I was in fact bewailing a general shift in perceptions about higher education. Nowadays it sometimes all seems to be about getting qualifications that lead directly to a good career and damn the intellectual interest value of it all. In contrast, I still believe in the love of study and passionate enquiry. Focusing upon a subject you're interested in instead of  calculating one's future financial status.

When our lovely daughter Frances Emily was thinking about university, she really didn't know what to do. She gained good A levels in English Literature, Theatre Studies, General Studies and Sociology but didn't want to continue along any of those routes. One day I threw into the mix the idea of American Studies and that seed took hold. She ended up completing a degree in American and Canadian Studies at The University of Birmingham. She enjoyed the course. It lifted her in various ways and in the end she came very close to achieving a first. She also got to spend two semesters in Birmingham, Alabama.

It was not about getting a good job. However, as it happens, she now has a good job - working on the twenty sixth floor of The Shard in London as part of a young team providing innovative software for recruitment agencies. A few months ago she questioned the usefulness of her years at university with the associated student debt but I pointed out that she had found the course stimulating. Besides, though not directly linked to her current role, her degree had honed her intellectual skills, bolstered her vocabulary and opened windows in her mind that allowed her to step into her present position.

Even today, it is possible to study subjects that fit your nature, things you are simply interested in without having to look too hard at the future. Higher education should not be mechanistic - just a means to an end. In my opinion, that now widespread perception goes against the grain of what education is meant to be and I find it rather sad. There is something quite noble and laudable about learning simply for the love it and as Socrates said, "kindling a flame".

31 comments:

  1. I do agree,YP. I always viewed a degree course as further education, rather than 'training' for a particular job. However, these days, education is seen as a business, like everything else. Universities are selling their wares to consumers (the students)and education for its own sake takes second place.

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    1. Nice to hear from you again Jenny. I hope you are well. Perhaps we are both old-fashioned - fancy thinking that learning for the sake of learning might be a good thing! Outrageous!

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  2. That is perhaps so, Yorkie. However, in my case I couldn't afford going onto higher education, and neither could my mother and grandmother afford to pay for me.

    My mother desperately wanted me to go on, to finish high school, and then go on to study to be a teacher. I wanted desperately to get a job, to earn my own money and help with our household in a monetary way.

    I got my wish. At the age of 15 I left high school. I got a job as a legal secretary in a Gympie law firm, where I remain for five years before moving to Brisbane.

    From that moment forward; from when I left school I've been studying in the University of Life.

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    1. I guess I was lucky because I received a full grant when I went to university so my parents did not have to dip into their own savings.

      Is The University of Life located on Tamborine Mountain? Which subject are you studying?

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    2. It travels with me wherever I roam, Yorkie. You ask what subject I'm studying...where do I start? There are a multitude of life's subjects...too many to list..

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  3. I try my best to learn about things. What was the question? Why would anyone pay to take a degree that didn't qualify one to earn a living? I don't know, it must be because they are daft, or very wealthy.

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    1. Like my daughter, many graduates discover a career that has no direct relationship with content of their degrees.

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    2. Years ago, I was told by my employers that a University degree showed that you had the capacity for absorbing knowledge at an advanced level.
      Years later, I was told a University degree proved you could write your name and (maybe) spell it properly !

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  4. I agree totally with what you say here YP - spoken like the good teacher I am sure you were - and the kind of teacher who hardly exists in the profession these days. All credit to your daughter too.

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    1. Teaching? These days it's all about spreadsheets and targets. No value seems to be placed in the reading of a good poem followed by one simple question - "Did you enjoy that?" No value in the quietness that arrives with understanding.

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  5. Yes YP, studying at University provides more than just a passport to employment. I get cross when I think about student loans though (both of my kids have them) as many of their friends and many of the children of people I work with conveniently found that, at the time of making applications, their circumstances were such that they didn't have to have loans.....and these are people with plenty of money and properties, who just chose to bed the truth......

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    1. Bed the truth? I think you were right the first time Libby!

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  7. I studied what I wanted, more or less, within the bounds of what the degree required. I finished high school at the community college to have a general Associate's degree upon graduating high school. At the time I had no interest in going to university, so I got a job.

    For anyone interested in further education for personal enjoyment rather than a degree, I suggest a company called The Great Courses. I've been impressed by the quality and variety of video courses they sell.

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    1. Of course, almost in spite of formal education paths, none of us ever stop learning. The day the learning ceases we are lost.

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    2. I used the Great Courses to homeschool my son through high school. He's dyslexic, so his reading ability is below his interest level, but he can hear information and totally absorb it. He also listened to books on tape, his favorites were the classics. He finished his high school requirements in 3 years instead of the usual 4 and went on to community college with a solid background in topics he would never have been exposed to in public school. Now he's 30 and in his job that keeps him on the road a lot, he listens to Great Courses in the car.

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  8. I think on your page a few years back, Mr. Pudding, you made inquiry as to how people started out and the many roads they travelled till they got to this point in time. Career wise, I think it was. Or maybe I am going nuts.

    Anyway, I was taught that education is to open the doors of your mind to think about things you might never have thought about until some teacher sparked an interest. Education was to teach you HOW to learn and therefore, no matter what your study entailed, when you were finished with university, you would be able to learn anything you put your mind to. I had so many graduate students that ended up in employment on the opposite side of the spectrum from where they studied and were degreed.

    I keep studying. Now I enroll in courses with Corseca and am teaching myself to watercolor! (Hoping my sight holds out long enough so that I can make a painting that I don't completely hate!)

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    1. I expect that you will create more than one painting that pleases you. Are you going nuts? I don't know which post you were referring to Mama Bear - I have churned out so many.

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  9. Degree programs have too many compulsory classes you must take. My friend Tony never went to university. One day he found a 400 level class he wanted to take for his own interest. Tony was miffed when they made him take the required first year course.

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    1. Did he have to take basic arithmetic and the alphabet? How about Course 273 - How to tie your shoe laces.

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  10. The idea of going on to tertiary education, for me, was totally out of the question. However years later (50) I returned to complete my secondary education after I retired and attained a score which would allow entry to university.

    Those four years were the best years of my education. As an older person you have a completely new perspective on teachers and education and I chose to do subjects I was interested in and didn't have to give a toss about whether it paved the way to a lucrative career path.

    I just loved it.

    Alphie

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    1. Well done to you Alphie!I wonder what subjects you ended up doing.

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    2. Since you asked and I can still remember: English, English Literature, Legal Studies, Australian History and Psychology.

      Alphie

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  11. I was too lazy at school to ever make it to uni. Instead, I left school and became a Librarian - combining my love for books with that for people, learning a lot through that work and still profiting from it in spite of not working in that area anymore since 1992.
    There are some examples in my circle of friends/family for people who studied what they really were interested in and now do something completely different:

    RJ has a degree in Theoretical Physics. He still loves the subject (and Natural Sciences as a whole), but for 6 years, he has been running his own company which I became part of 4 years ago. We are consultants specialized in Data Protection (or Privacy Protection) and IT Security, but RJ's time at uni still helps us - he has taught me a lot about how to approach a task logically (whereas before, I was all about systematics but not necessarily about logic).

    One of my nieces in Yorkshire has finished her studies of Egyptology with a "First", and now works at a pub in Ripon.

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    1. Is the pub called "Tutankhamen's Arms"?

      Somehow I find it hard to imagine that you were ever "lazy" Meike.

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    2. Still am, Neil! (Lazy, I mean.) When something does not come to me immediately, or I am not really really interested in it, I won't sit down and study it unless I absolutely have to.

      The pub is named the same as thousands of others around England: The Royal Oak.

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  12. It's a truism that career is just a cv written in retrospect. It is far too early to decide what you want to with your life and higher education is what you do while you make your mind up.

    Like Librarian, I simply didn't bother and went straight into the world of work, although I didn't discover what it was I actually wanted to do for a year or two.

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    1. So many young people seem to be going into subjects like Business Administration, Computer Studies or Marketing...in the belief that such subjects will lead them along a yellow brick road to a lucrative future.

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  13. You are absolutely right. As university math instructors, both my parents used to bemoan the idea that higher education was merely a job training course. I was always urged to study what I loved, and believe that a job would grow from that. And it did, just as it did for your daughter.

    I think employers primarily want to see that a job candidate got through school. The course of study is secondary to many of them. (Well, maybe in some highly specialized fields they want specific degrees, but this isn't always true.)

    I DO question whether spending two semesters in Alabama is a GOOD thing, however. :) (I say this as an American southerner myself.)

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