27 June 2012: Education equals a better life

Education equates to a better life

Let’s just say I’m biased.  I believe earning a post-secondary degree is noble, and an educated, cultured citizenry capable of critical thinking is a definite plus.

Perhaps my bias correlates to my life’s work as a teacher.  Long before becoming one however, I came to the conclusion that learning is a good thing.  That might’ve happened in the third and fourth grades when memorizing the multiplication table and becoming the best speller in the class.

Over time, I concluded everyone should have access to a sound education, which ought not to be reserved for privileged elites.

That’s the democrat in me, an egalitarian bent fostered in a blue-collar, working-class crucible.

State-related colleges, two- and four-year, and universities were the ticket for me and for millions of my socio-economic brothers and sisters.  Then, legislators bought into the idea of not only the personal but also the social value of higher education.

That was before Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, and (non)reality TV that have conspired to reform the idea of a college degree from a public to a private good.  With that, have come rocketing costs far outstripping other areas including health care.

As Catherine Rampell explains on a NY Times blog, “College tuition and fees today are 559 percent of their cost in 1985. In other words, they have nearly sextupled (while consumer prices have roughly doubled).”

Tuition costs, especially here in Colorado where the budgets of our community colleges and public universities, have been whacked due to TABOR, the euphemistic Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Student debt—our modern-day version of financial bondage—is nearing the one trillion dollar level.  That’s a 1 followed by 12 zeroes: 1,000,000,000,000.  Even for Mitt Romney, that’s a sizeable hunk of debt, even if college graduates are likely to earn twice the income as their high-school level peers.

According to a CNN Money report based upon data from the Federal Reserve, “Median student loan balance is $12,800.  About one-quarter of borrowers owe more than $28,000 and about 10% owe more than $54,000.”  For most, what follows is a life in virtual debtor’s prison.

The purpose of education at every level can be adduced to two outcomes:  utilitarian and uplifting.

We can agree that it’s good for children to learn how to read and do basic mathematical functions.  That way they can read coupons with fine print and count their change.  Not everyone is good at that.

It’s good as well for young students to explore their creative side, though it’s not long before it is crushed from them.  After all, it’s about performance, and it’s tough to ascertain one’s appreciation of beauty in art or music.  So testing math skills it is along with reading and writing, not that being proficient in them is an indicator of the quality of one’s learning.

The uplifting aspect of education goes beyond skill and knowledge.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig uses the metaphor of hiking in mountains, something most of us are able to connect with.

“In the high country of the mind,” he writes, “one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty, and to the enormous magnitude of questions asked, and to the answers proposed to these questions.  The sweep goes on and on and on so obviously much further than the mind can grasp one hesitates even to go near for fear of getting lost in them and never finding one’s way out.”

As is asked in What the Bleep Do We Know, how far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go?  For most, not far if at all because the labyrinth of the mind and soul can be a scary place.

A recent letter writer to the Denver Post quoted Dr. Stephen Mason, a psychologist and retired professor with regard to the benefit of a college education.  I was intrigued by the elegance of the statement that I found and read the article online in Psychology Today.

Mason explains that its purpose is not ultimately to make more money.  Instead, “Its value is to be found in the quality that it adds to life.  It allows one to better appreciate music and art, history and literature.

“It contributes to a better understanding of language and culture, nature and philosophy.  It expands rather than limits horizons as it replaces faith and belief with reason and logic. Very simply, it teaches one to live…not to earn a living.”


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