Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Education: What is REALLY important!

In the United States and other developed nations our education system does not prepare the individual for adulthood, but rather to go to college. The question for most is not "Will you go to college? but "Where do you plan to go to college?"

Having spent the last 8 years of my life living in a college town and seeing some of the antics that go on I have often mused, "How is it that we developed a system of higher education that sends our children off on their own at an age when their decision making skills will be at the lowest they will ever be in their entire life?"

With this emphasis on college for our children, the affect has been that a Bachelors degree is increasingly being viewed with the weight of a high school diploma. When everyone has one, then it becomes less important. (Now you have to go to graduate school just to distingush yourself from the masses with a B.A.)
One wonders whether high schools would be serving the population more if they also provided for adequate vocational training and life skills. For instance, why was I required to take 4 years of maths in high school? I am not suggesting that math is not important but all the math I have ever REALLY needed in life I learned by the
9th grade.

Would not I have benefited more if those extra years had been substituted by musical learning (I wish I had been forced now to have learned an instrument), foreign language training, automotive repair (would have saved me much money in my life) or other such endeavors that would have improved my adult life much more than algebra ever did.

Part of the reason for this cultural shift has been the subtle, and not so subtle, contempt our society feels toward blue-collar labor. Despite the fact that skilled labor has much more job security these days than an advertising or marketing manager, and in many cases a skilled job can provide for a very nice middle class lifestyle, we still feel a sense of disappointment when someone enters one of these fields rather than "go to college". I remember hearing in the news a couple years ago that the state of California was short 20,000 plumbers (which paid more than $30 an hour) but no one wants to be a plumber.

In addition, people are coming out of university with sometimes crippling debt and wondering why they even went. Add to that most students choose to go to schools in other states adding thousands and thousands of dollars in room and board costs when often the same quality of education is available at a school close to their home. This is particulary depressing when you realize that 1 in 3 students will drop out before obtaining their degree. Had they really wanted to go to college, or is it just something that is expected in our culture??

Increasingly I am viewing the whole system as a bit of a scam we have collectively bought into. There is very little that is taught in a 4 year program that could not be imparted in just a year or two.

For my own son Gabriel I am starting to make a change. I want him to do well in Math and encourage him but I realize with his temperament he will not be going into a math related field. Living in China my number one educational priority for him is the acquisition of Mandarin Chinese. I will not ignore the "core" teachings per se but will try to alter his education so that it fits him rather than what is expected by the culture. May throw in a little electric guitar as well... (see video)

Any how, in the words of Dennis Miller, "That's just my opinion, I could be wrong."


Bruce said...


I went with my youngest daughter to register for fall college classes. I was quite shocked to see only one other child there with a parent.

It's like..........they are 18.......whatever.......

I said little and let my daughter choose her classes and I only added a comment or two to add "clarification." But, I wanted to be there. This was an unimportant step and I am still her dad.

Maybe I was immature at 18-20. Maybe.........but I wish I had had a bit of guidance (beside the 60 yr old preacher preaching at me to do the WILL of God) I pretty well was on my own and I can tell you I made a boatload of mistakes, some of which could have been avoided IF I had someone more mature in my life.


PS. I am starting to think college is a scam too. Have you read any of Wendell Berry's thoughts on the whole industrial education process?

Andrew said...

"For instance, why was I required to take 4 years of maths in high school?"

Increasingly, the only thing that is of concern is math and science. Social Studies is not tested here in Utah. Neither is art or music.

We test reading (focus being informational text), math, and science. I heard one teacher comment, "Social Studies? Yeah, I teach Social Studies. I tell em' the Egyptians built pyramids; now take out your math!"

History, Civics, Sociology, Art, Music... these have all been thrown under the bus.


History, art, music.... that stirs up the worker bees, and we wouldn't want that.

Bob said...

Really interesting food for thought. I have now put one through college, one is half-way done and I'll have another ready to go in two more years. My wife and I have made sacrifices and have spent a great deal of money to make this happen. We have not borrowed. The older two have both gone out of state so the cost has been significant. They could have receieved the very same education closer to home.

I don't regret doing it and I stand ready to send the youngest when his time comes.

But I relate to and agree with much of what you have said and I struggle with it. I tell myself that they have benefitted greatly not just from the academic part (which is, as you say, a dime a dozen) but from their exposure to people and experiences.

I agree 100% that for most, this is arguably the most immature time in their life.

Redlefty said...

Once again you give us much to consider. You're on a roll, man!

Steve H. said...

Bruce: Yeah, I think back to being 18 and you need guidence. Haven't read Wendell Berry.

Andrew: How is it that history and civics become less important than science or math. I certainly don't think they are more important but you are right about the worker bee thing. I have been teaching about human rights, racism, and democracy over the last few weeks to my middle school kids and it certainly stirs the pot more than math

Bruce: I'll end up sending my kid to college I suppose and hey, I'm sitting here with a graduate degree. I love going to school...but that me. I just hate the cultural lemmings nature that grips us and we start shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for nothing. One of my best friends makes a heck of a lot more money than I do and he never attended a day of school after high school whereas I am still paying off my Masters. :)

Michael: Thanks for the compliment!

Steve H. said...

Bob: I need to proofread myself before I hit send. I meant to say, "we start shelling out tens of thousands of dollars and we don't even know if thats what we really want to do" I would never say a college degree was "nothing". Its what happens when you are thinking one thing and typing another...:)

Bob said...

Thanks for the clarification; I think I knew what you meant (also knew you meant "Bob" instead of "Bruce"). :-0

One last thought on this: I am really in favor of a 'gap year' between high school and college where you go do something useful -- maybe something altruistic or maybe just work -- and grow up a little. Wish I had done it w/ my kids and wish I had considered it when I was 18 and oh so immature.

Andrew said...

I agree with the idea of a gap year. I like the Mission Year program where the kids go spend a year working with the poor in the inner city, sans cell phones and TV. I worked and learned at Keith Green's place my first year out of HS, and I am glad I did that.

angelphish in co said...

Chris and I have talked about this a lot and wish someone had encouraged us to take a year (or more) off, work &/or travel, and just be young. Besides, you have your whole life ahead of you to be a serious adult.

Anyway, one good thing that could come out of the crappy economy and the rising costs of education is that we'll get over our disdain towards practical trades and people will see them as valuable again. Who knows.

There was an error in this gadget