I wanted to start this column with a snarky quote about education, so I did what came natural — I Googled it.
Zero point zero six seconds (blame AP style for that ugly looking phrase) and 293,000,000 results later, I found one, allegedly from Mark Twain: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
Whether or not Twain actually said it (though, the Internet is always right, isn’t it?), the aphorism does ring true today, perhaps more so than when he uttered it.
It is easy to say that America is in the midst of an educational crisis — the litany of other crises would simply say, “Join the club” — but, as a matter of fact, it is. Education is yet another category where America has ceased to dominate its world competition.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the United States is dangerously average in the categories of reading, mathematics and science, scoring barely above the mean average in reading and science, falling below it in math.
When compared with Australia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore, it’s a bloodbath.
How could the United States have fallen so far?
Of course, complaining about the state of the country’s education system is hardly a new phenomenon — Twain died more than a century ago.
But something about this just feels different.
College is no longer solely a place of learning. Of course, much learning goes on, but it is not the student’s focus.
We take English classes where English is not taught: we write about our feelings instead. We visit RateMyProfessors.com to see which teacher we can get the easiest “A” in. We can go through college without once reading any of the great books of literature and philosophy, or at least the unabridged versions.
Between beer pong and sexual hook ups, where would we find the time?
The university, for the casual student, is no longer a place of learning. It is merely a jobs factory.
This problem is acknowledged by the university by its “general education” requirements: Fresno State requires students to take units that satisfy a “foundation,” “breadth,” “integration” and “multicultural/international” component.
These “courses are almost always the already existing introductory courses, which are of least interest to the major professors and merely assume the worth and reality of that which is to be studied,” Allan Bloom wrote in his seminal treatise on higher education, “The Closing of the American Mind.” “It is general education, in the sense in which a jack-of-all trades is a generalist. He knows a bit of everything and is inferior to the specialist in each area.”
“But,” Bloom concluded, “this is not a liberal education and does not satisfy any longing [students] have for one.”
In my experience, what the former University of Chicago professor argued rings true. I remember nothing that I learned in any of my G.E. classes, with the two humanities classes I took being the exception.
Which, I think, speaks to the state of education. For all the foundation, breadth, integration and multicultural/international classes we’ve taken, we still are not getting a liberal education.
We don’t read the great literature unless it’s on our own time. We don’t immerse ourselves in the great works of philosophy unless it’s on our time. We don’t learn history unless it’s on our time.
If our schooling only interferes with our education, then what is the point of schooling?</pre>