By Dylan R.N. Crabb
I spent five years in a university under the assumption that a college degree was all I needed for a decent life as an adult but I feel as if I gained more life experience in the work force outside of the official academia sphere. This general feeling of dissatisfaction is not uncommon among college graduates and it doesn’t help that the cost of college tuition has more than doubled in the last thirty years (Bill McCarthy, PolitiFact, 2019). 58% of Americans say that college is worth current costs and 72% of Americans are in support of free tuition at public colleges and universities (Staff Report, American Public Media-Research Lab, 2019). So about half of Americans do not think college degrees are worth their price and a super majority of Americans are in support of making colleges cheaper in some capacity. I’m with the super majority who wants cheaper college.
Thinking back on my time in American schools, it’s difficult to credit any of that time with any practical knowledge of adult life. Perhaps the biggest contribution schools made to my professional development was knowledge of how to research information and how to distinguish between different sources of information. Practical specifics like job applications, tax documents, and rental agreements I learned on my own after I left the public school system. I think this is an issue worthy of our collective attention. Schools need to place more emphasis on the practical specifics of life especially junior high & high schools. A high school student should be able to navigate the fundamentals of independent living the day that he/she graduates. Basically, high school should be what college is now.
I think there are two primary strategies for reforming American education. The first strategy is to increase funding for public schools allowing for more opportunities for a wider variety of students as well as mandating free tuition for all citizen applicants and increasing pay for teachers. Taking the emphasis off test-taking and giving each student a more hands-on approach with a more personalized curriculum. The second strategy is basically the opposite approach, to decrease funding for public education forcing schools to re-organize and reallocate their budgets and strip down their curriculums with the intention of rebuilding public schools from necessities. Whereas the former strategy is a more Keynesian approach to public education, the latter strategy is a more laissez faire approach to public education.
A separate issue with American education is not the schools themselves but the civil society in which they exist. I think a particular attitude has developed in the American consciousness around educational institutions: that the institutions are beyond criticism with the belief that a college degree is the only way to to make one’s life “successful.” While I agree that more education can only be an improvement to a person’s life, I do not believe that institutions should hold a monopoly on education; a school and an education are two different things. A good education begins with parents and/or family fostering an inquisitive mindset into children. One idea my mother drilled into me in childhood was to never be afraid to ask a question. I think this invoked a curious nature within me about what kinds of questions to ask which people. Curiosity towards the world around you as well as curiosity regarding how the world has been is necessary for an informed populace. Parents need to be more active in their children’s development and push them to ask questions, perhaps even challenge their teachers.
I do not believe that any one institution (be it educational, governmental, etc.) deserves a people’s absolute and unwavering trust. Any person is susceptible to corruption and, by extension, any institution is susceptible to corruption. It is healthy to question any decision especially if it comes from a position of authority. Wirelessly connected computers and the world wide web have increased access to information on a scale never before seen in human history but despite that, I fear humans are becoming even more ideologically reclusive. It’s as if too many choices in news media is causing people to retreat into their own comforts and biases further balkanizing the political landscape. There must be ways for communities (and the broader society) to foster curiosity and encourage people to step out of their comfort zones. My advice for now, to anyone reading this, is simply to watch less and read more.