Monday, March 24, 2014

College and Education

Troy Boccelli, a senior at Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago, wrote for the Chicago Tribune last week about the value of a college education. He makes the observation that, in today's thinking in America, "The outlook is that if you don't attend college, you're probably McDonald's-bound." He then writes that we should focus on "re-evaluating the purpose of education."

All well and good, to both points. Boccelli's observation on the way non-college grads are viewed is fair, and I believe that the purpose of education should always be re-evaluated, otherwise we as a society will take it for granted and not make an adequate investment (either in the public or private sector).

However, I believe that college is about so much more than education, if by education we mean the transfer of knowledge and skills (Boccelli contrasts the professionals of a doctor and a plumber, and the differences in how the knowledge and skills for each are transferred, noting that plumbers do not need a college education to learn their trade). College should be about having a structured season of learning how to pursue knowledge and skills, not just of a given field of study but of life as a member of society. Particularly at residential colleges, young men and women experience the highest degree of personal responsibility of their lives to date. Relationships (both social and professional) form and develop in different ways, more closely to the way they form among adults, and "learning experiences" are often deeper because students do not "go home" from them at the end of the day. I firmly believe that college is a worthwhile investment, and I hope every person of influence, from all levels of government to the private sector to the educational institutions themselves, will consider what he or she can do to make college available to every young person.

Anyone who knows me will be able to guess where I will take my argument next: to the value of a liberal arts education. A young person who receives a liberal arts education, I believe, will be able to pursue any profession, from medicine to plumbing, with a deeper appreciation for the relationship between all branches of human knowledge, and can use the ability to make those connections to serve society holistically. I wonder what Troy Boccelli thinks about liberal arts education, and if he might be planning to pursue it?

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