A Rant about Higher Education
I was enticed by their beautiful buildings and promise of a wealth of knowledge that I could sip from at my leisure. As always, once I found myself in the embrace of their brick buildings and under their cautious thumbs, I discovered that I was deceived.
Mysterious told me, amid my internal turmoil about the true desire to further my education, that I—once again—had unrealistic expectations. I challenged his statement as we sat in the admissions building that hot afternoon, feet heavy from the long journey that brought me here from the last week. Maybe I had unrealistic expectations, but if my expectations are unreasonable, then I fear the direction that we are heading in academia. The only expectation I had was, though likely unrealistic, that I would join an institution of higher learning and join great thinkers. I did not find that in college.
“I’m just saying that you keep expecting people to be you, when they clearly are not.”
It proved my point, really. The point that seemed demonstrated was one which led me to believe I made the wrong decision in coming here. The week before, in the middle of a class that would be the foundations for my major, my professor told me: “We try not to see the difference between experience and ‘book smarts.’ If you make the distinction, you are then creating a hierarchy of intelligence, which we don’t want.”
For context, I challenged my professor—maybe not a smart move. It boggled my mind at the time that we muddied the waters between wisdom and intelligence. We were reading The Journey of the Magi by T.S. Elliot, one which elevated my understanding (through reading) of the experience and joy of struggling the tough journeys of life alone, like my piece The Hermit and the Stag. The professor argued that though the entire journey was the catalyst for this new appreciation in life, the magi were not considered wise men because of their experience but based alone on their intelligence. Maybe I care too much about stupid things, but the argument baffled me.
The debate continued down the lines of the difference between experiential and traditional learning. My argument was that I could read about the experience of a marginalized group, maybe even consider myself an expert in the space based on my studies, but I couldn’t truly comprehend their struggles and experiences because I didn’t live their experiences. That led to the claim by the professor above, and I found myself dumbfounded in the front row of the class, being told I’m wrong in my thinking.
It’s the second time that this has happened since I’ve been in the institution, and I sometimes wonder if it’s just me that’s the problem.
I don’t mind being wrong. I’m wrong all the time, but if you’re going to claim that I’m wrong—have some damn good evidence to support your stance. As someone who has had 12 years of real-world experience in “the real world” (as I’ll call it), there hasn’t been a single situation where someone has chosen an individual over me because they have a degree instead of my breadth of experience. Ever.
As a hiring manager, I’ve hired individuals who look great on paper, some even decorated as academic scholars, but when I throw them in the real world to utilize that “intelligence” they have, they don’t perform as well as my employees that have more experience. Yet, my professor argues now that they are the same.
The people in my above example are not the same.
Of course, this is my own personal belief, and I don’t believe in generalizing. There are, I’m sure, some individuals who are great without experience and perform just as well, but I know that the “real world” does a lot of generalizing. If you know that and use it to your advantage, you can be successful. It’s how I was successful.
Does that make it right? No.
Is that reality? That’s been my experience.
Of course, this is limited to my own neck of the woods, in spaces that I’ve occupied. Obviously, this isn’t the same for professions like medical industries or for “realities” outside of the States, as I can’t speak to those. I can only speak for what I know, which is that this “pipe-dream” you’re selling to youths in my neck of the woods isn’t reality, and if that is one of the core beliefs of the institution, we are not culturally compatible.
I tried to think about why this was the case, and my mother made a wonderful point: “They are in the business of making money off of kids that think they have to get a college degree, what you suggest challenges that.”
It was then that I thought about Socrates and his quest to find someone wiser than himself and prove the oracle wrong. Did he feel that same emotion when he found that these ‘wise men’ weren’t wise at all? Did Socrates anguish at the possibility the oracle might be right? Sure, his quest gave him meaning, but what was the cost? Maybe this feeling is what many others experience when joking about how they’ve lost their faith in humanity.
Maybe it’s arrogance to make the comparison of my experience to that of Socrates, but I’ve met many amazing individuals outside of academia that taught me more than any institution could have, and it is through that which I have found myself experiencing this solemn disappointment. I expected from beginning to end this to be an experience of learning for its own sake, improving myself as an individual and “joining the great thinkers.”
What a joke.
Now that I’ve stepped out of academia and returned, disappointed, to “the status quo,” I hope to work more on my content here and in the future.