Wake Up, Stay Woke.

Tuskegee University, my *first* alma mater. My first love.

I ran across this piece on education from The New York Times:  “Do We Spend Too Much on Education?”  The author questions whether the economic cost of education is worth the promise that “it’ll all pay off” eventually.  He argues:

For some people in some careers, some colleges may be worth the price they charge. But millions of other people are paying more than quadruple what their parents paid 25 years ago (plus inflation) for a vague credential, not much knowledge or skills, and a crippling amount of debt.

So unless you’re a doctor or a scientist, your college degree is little more than a “vague credential.”

Not to be remiss in understating the full value of college education, the author reminds us that “… learning should be done throughout life, and technology creates more ways to learn every year.”  You don’t need the “antiquated debt-fueled luxury” of  the college classroom! You can learn everything you need to know from the #innernets. But what if your spectrum of knowledge is already limited?  What if all you know how to do on a computer is check your facebook page, and play solitaire when the comcast bill doesn’t get paid?  What if you’re 23 and you need to compose an email to see a man about a job.  And you haven’t a clue what to do once the internet explorer finishes loading on your dial-up connection.

This visual might seem extreme to you, but I promise I’m not engaging in hyperbole to oversell the point.  This is real life and I’ve witnessed the education struggle first-hand.  Imagine being post-college age and not knowing the difference between city and state.  Continent and country.  Africa and New Jersey.  Education in America failed somewhere.  And it appears it happened well before the recruiters from University of X showed up in high school cafeterias, flaunting their college-boy elitism.

Our values have changed.  What we value has changed.  I wrote recently about the price of entertainment, which at present, seems to occur at the expense of knowledge.  I concluded that our collective desire to be coddled by amusement supersedes our hunger for information.  And so, “Molly.  We in danja, girl.”  Adding fuel to this fire, it’s now permissible to challenge the “value” of the education itself, instead of questioning why it costs so much.  And perhaps, why the education we receive won’t fit the workforce we enter.  No, no.  That would be too much like right, as they say where I’m from.  Better that we nix the concept of college altogether, and save ourselves the debt.

Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The college experience is about learning as much as you can, and preparing as best you can for a bright future.  Countless mamas have declared over the decades that they don’t want their babies to struggle the way they did.  And without exceptional talent, exceptional ingenuity, blessings from above or wherever, or a Midas touch, education was the single best way to combat strife.  I mean, you mighta still struggled, but at least you met it armed, as opposed to fear-struck and stuck.

College isn’t just about what you learn in class.  It’s about what you learn having a roommate for the first time.  Living away from your parents.  Living away from the comforts you’ve always known.  It’s about learning that you probably shouldn’t drink that much bad liquor if you don’t want to feel that shitty the morning after.  It’s about learning the definitions of consequence and responsibility through youthful trial and error.  And learning that nobody has to treat you special just because you’re you — you were a big fish in a small pond.  And now that the pool is bigger, you must be that much more extraordinary to be considered extraordinary.  College is about transforming the invincibility of your teenage years into the humility that must accompany the rest of your life’s journey.  Because in college, you learn that everything you know isn’t everything there is to know.  And that challenging you culturally, emotionally, and intellectually, while equipping you with advanced knowledge is valuable in a way that transcends money, and eclipses fear of debt.

Cornel West’s opinion piece published today in The New York Times, gets right at the heart of how virtue in American values has devolved.  Professor West writes:

…Materialism is a spiritual catastrophe, promoted by a corporate media multiplex and a culture industry that have hardened the hearts of hard-core consumers and coarsened the consciences of would-be citizens. Clever gimmicks of mass distraction yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists….King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.

Whole lotta college words in there, ain’t it?  However, don’t miss the power of  West’s prose because you’re too lazy to learn the meaning of a new word.  He’s saying wake up.  In fact, he’s screaming it like Laurence Fishburne’s character did at the end of School Daze.  Understand that they understand you’re too distracted by everything else to recognize the wool is being pulled slowly but surely over your glazed-over eyes.  Your intellectual curiosity is dulled by fear and irreverence.  In other words, you don’t need college because you’ll be “crippled” by debt.  And you’ll likely get drunk and have a hangover in class anyway.  So why bother?

Fam, your ambition is misdirected.  You think you can “make it” if you can just get that bullshit youtube video of you doing some bullshit to go viral.  And you can, and it might!  But consider this:  what are you offering for public consumption?  What are you leaving as your legacy?  What, of yours, are future generations building on?  Some bullshit.  And that’s ok with you because at least you made it.

Learning from the accumulation of information available on the internet is not the same as practicing the wherewithal  to understand, and apply, and critique and build on said information.  These skills are sharpened and refined by the college experience, by the kind of knowledge that is acquired in college.  Neil Gabler explains it well in his piece also from The New York Times, The Elusive Big Idea“.  College is about so much more than the classroom lecture and the decreeing of the “vague credential.”


About moniquealicia

M.A.G. is a doctoral student at Howard University. She resides in the Washington, DC metro area, and is passionate about her love of family and friends, politics and conversation, and the exceptional meal. View all posts by moniquealicia

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