Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Spending Too Much Time and Money on Education

Fresh on the heels of yesterday's post about extending the school day and year comes a blog about the other side; Americans are heading in droves to college, but is seems that the value of both a high school diploma and a four-year degree is dropping every year (the New York Times ran a piece in 2006 about the dubious value of even a Master's degree, and a piece ran MSNBC.com on Monday asking if an Ivy League degree was worth the price). 30% of Americans now hold a college degree, as compared to 11% in 1970, so the rarity of this achievement (and the attendant expected salary windfall) has diminished quite a bit. Is it a good idea to spend as much money and time as we spend in the classroom anymore?

Blake Boles believes that formal, expensive college is completely optional and has started Zero Tuition College, complete with mentors and (loosely) structured classes. Anyone can join, and anyone can become a mentor to a student. The College Dropouts Hall of Fame from his site lists quite a few people who agree with Boles's vision, including Ferran Adria (gastronomic genius and innovative founder of el Bulli), Paul Allen and Dan Akroyd (and those are just the A's! The list is extensive). Much like our floundering public school system, colleges have generally failed to adapt to our changing world; they seem to be stuck in the 400-student lecture hall format, much in the same way that public schools are stuck in rows and worksheets and minor reforms that look pretty but don't work.

I dropped out of high school in the middle of my senior year and then went on to eventually get a Master's degree in education. Out of six years of post-high school education, I would say that two were truly useful, and these were not consecutive (a semester here and there, cobbled together). That might be a generous estimate on my part, but I can say that if I had to do it over again, I would have spent my last two years of high school abroad (if homeschool was not an option), then continued to travel with the astronomical amount of money I spent on my formal degrees. HoneyFern could still have become a reality without formal schooling, although with slightly different hurdles (accreditation requires a Master's degree, where a business degree or mentor might have served me just as well!!).

I am on the fence about this, though. If you believe the goal of college is to get a high-paying job, you are probably mostly out of luck these days. If you believe the goal of higher education is to broaden and enliven your mind, to expose yourself to differing opinions and research and ideas, I am still not convinced college is the way to go. Even as I break out of the mold of public school, I still have a hard time dismissing the idea of college altogether.

However, as quoted on the College Dropouts Hall of Fame website:

Schools [at all levels] teach children to obey. They espouse the things we—the ruling generation—want kids to know. No wonder most schools are pressure cookers where bored teachers meet bored children.... Modern education is a wasted investment. It doesn't deliver what we need the most: creative answers to the challenges of our times... It isn't a surprise that many of the people who've had the greatest influence on our times were—from the perspective of education—failures. — Jurriaan Kamp, Ode magazine editor

And there you have it.  I don't need to spend my time and money being told what to think, and neither do you. The question then becomes why are we spending too much time and money on education?

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