The write value of a college education
April 28, 2011
With only four classes standing between me and Blowout, I have been considering the purpose of the last four years of my life. What is really the point of a college education, and does it actually give you something you can take with you when you leave?
The cynic in me wants to say no. College is nothing more than a proving ground. You come in with your innate abilities and spend four — or more — years jumping through hoops, testing your limits. You leave with nothing but a scorecard telling you how good of a job you can get. But for some reason, I cannot make myself buy that. Maybe it’s all the time I spent studying for exams and going to class, or the thousands of dollars my dad shelled out to get me and keep me here, but I have to believe it means something more. Just what, however, is hard to say.
The main point of college is certainly not to learn the facts. You could know everything there is to know about a certain subject after taking an exam on it, but a semester later you’d be lucky to recall 10 percent. Information decays in the memory if you don’t use it continuously. Even skills are easy to unlearn. Although I studied abroad just three years ago, my language abilities have regressed pathetically, and three years out of college, I doubt I will be able to give the equation for Gross Domestic Product.
The cliche response to the question, “What do you get from a liberal arts education?” is always, “You learn how to think.” But what does that even mean? How can you tell if your thoughts are any better? Maybe you can think better because somewhere in the depths of the brain, all the information and theories learned in lecture still exist. Maybe it’s because at college, people call us out when we speak without thinking, so we sometimes review our thoughts before opening our mouths.
A better answer is that we improve our thinking because we have been forced to write papers. Writing, for me at least, is the most difficult aspect of college, but perhaps it is also the most rewarding. Writing forces us to consider our own thoughts and opinions from a more objective perspective. It makes us put them into a logical progression, which is not their natural state. Thoughts exist in our minds as wordless shadows and feelings. They are neither logical nor communicable. Writing, and public speaking for that matter, transform these phantasms into an expressible and hopefully coherent form. This forces us to judge the validity of our own thoughts and allows us to share them with others. The more practice you have at writing, the better you become at communication and persuasion and the more effectively you can think because the organization of ideas becomes habitual.
This may be only my own attempt to give meaning to those all-nighters I pulled writing papers, but I think there may be something to it. If anything disproves my point it, may be this article, which is simply a bunch of unorganized and none-too-penetrating ideas put together with words, but I’m graduating and, really, I couldn’t bring myself to write some deep, meaningful sendoff.