Sunday, August 08, 2010

"Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling in Graduation Speech"

(er...aka 'valediction'...)


Meh. I guess some people think this is big news, but I don't see anything very impressive here. It's not that I don't agree with some of it, and not that I don't think that the education system is a wreck--I do and I do.

But here's the deal: maybe it's different in high school, but, as for college: I can tell you right now, it's not me that's turning my students into mindless corporate automata. Rather, a very large number of them seem naturally suited to that, and want nothing better. In fact, they are the ones who demand that classes speed them toward their goal of becoming mindless middle managers, and they are the ones who seem contemptuous of classes that do not do so. It's my students who only want to learn what's going to be on the test, and that only in order to get out of college with the appropriate piece of paper. Try to teach them something genuinely interesting, and less--far less--than half the class will show any interest in it.

One might argue that it's high school that's ruined them, but I doubt it. Of course I think that learning is good in and of itself--but I've come to believe that few people agree with that. We wanted to improve the populace by sending more of them to college, and I have no doubt that we've done so. But we've also suckified college. Now colleges are largely populated by students who have no business there--who are incurious, who have no desire to learn, and who really want nothing more than to make more money as a consequence of enduring what they see as four otherwise pointless years.

There's a lot to rail against in the educational system, but IMHO it's juvenile to think that, if not for the evil system, the great mass of students would be ravenously seeking knowledge in their own unique and creative ways.

[Oh and: "Demand that you be interested in class"???? That's approximately the most absurd thing I've ever heard. Frustrated at my students' lack of interest in arguments for and against the existence of God one day in class, I asked them what they were interested in. Silence. "Well, what kinds of things do you discuss or argue about with your friends?" I asked. "Yankees vs. Red Sox," on kid finally said. Unless the valedictorian in question meant "Demand of yourselves that you be interested in your classes," she's barking up the wrong tree. Otherwise, she's basically saying: demand that your teachers talk about whatever lame-ass crap students happen to like.

Oh and: via Metafilter]


Blogger The Mystic said...

Coming from someone who was in both high school and college fairly recently, I gotta say that it seemed to me, at least, that the majority of students are so trapped in the idea that money is the ultimate end that they don't even understand opposing viewpoints.

I've talked with a fair share of undergrads, and I've even given a few one-off lectures in colleagues' classes where it came up, but honestly, students don't understand what it means to see education as an end, itself. They think money is good because, with enough of it, one will live comfortably. That's easy enough. It's simple, based on understandable actions and consequences, and you can be cool and impress your similarly ignorant friends if you have a lot of expensive toys.

But when you tell these kids that there are other ends worth pursuing, they look at you like you're some sort of floppy-headed hippie freak. They dismiss you as such, as well. They retreat into their little social circles where no one talks about anything important, keeping all the constituents safe from the knowledge that they might just not be very good at anything.

The students I've spoken with about these issues have largely suffered from the same apparent problem: they simply don't have any meaningful educational direction in life apart from getting a job so that they can make money and live comfortably. It's so bad, most of them don't even think an alternative is possible.

I can also say that when I had conversations with many of them in which I actually talked about the benefits of a well-educated mind, most still refused to do any more than entertain my thoughts and then push them aside for the more easily grasped prudential monetary concerns.

Perhaps interestingly, I've had the most success dealing with people and these educational issues when I defeat them in things which matter to them, and in which they found no connection to their education. For instance, I actually convinced a pair of kids I met at UVa that education was important beyond monetary concerns because of the way it impacts the rest of one's life by beating them in a game of racquetball and attributing the success to a well-rounded education.


So, what I'm saying is, I'm going to go on tour defeating kids in video games to prove that education matters.

That's what I'm workin' on right now.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Ryan said...

I'm not sure that you'd be flattered by my bringing in the opinion of Herr Nietzsche on your behalf, however after rereading the Twilight of the Idols yesterday, I couldn't help but think about this post. And, as you'd expect, those with highly engrained enlightenment based sensibilities will probably be offended by this, but I for one tend to agree with him, or at least, I should say, I'm sympathetic:

"German 'higher schooling' is in fact a brutal form of training that tries to process a horde of young men as quickly as possible for use - and abuse - in the civil service. 'Higher education' and horde - these are in contradiction from the outset. Any higher education is only for the exceptions: you have to be privileged to have the right to such a high privilege. Nothing great or beautiful could ever be common property: pulchrum est paucorum hominum (Beauty is for the few). - What are the conditions for the decline of German culture? That 'higher education' is not a privilege anymore - the democratization of 'Bildung,' the fact that it is becoming common and commonplace..."

-Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, "What the Germans Lack" #5, p. 189 of the Cambridge edition.

12:08 PM  

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