Castle Rock Institute Blog
Thursday, May 19, 2005
Why go to college?
It's fairly common to recognize the limits of traditional western education-- its focus on classroom learning, its emphasis on accumulated knowledge, its disciplinary boundaries, and its privileging of intellectual over emotional, social, practical, and other non-linguistic ways of knowing. Of course it has limits; everything has limits. That's fine, as long as the limits don't impact the reason one goes to school in the first place. I know my car will get me around town, but it won't paint my house, and that's OK because I didn't get the car for that purpose.

So here's an important question. Why do most students decide to enroll in college? Why do they, and their parents, think it's a good thing, worth the time, effort and money? Certainly there are a lot of reasons, and everyone probably can cite more than one, but here in America I suspect that for most, "getting a job" is at the top of the list. College is seen as a financial investment in a student's future earning potential. Graduating from college makes you a better job applicant by virtue of the knowledge, skills, and training you received while in school.

Thinking back to the limits of ordinary college education, I have to ask if most students are trying to use their car to paint their house. If "getting a job" is their main goal, are the limits of college learning hurting them in the end? I suspect the answer is "yes" for many.

Certainly having specific knowledge and skills for a particular job, and credentials from a known educational institution are important steps for being able to do a certain job and for being hired to do it. But I believe that doing a job, any job, well, requires more than a command of knowledge, intellectual skills, and practical training. Doing something well requires considering all of its components, dimensions, and nuances. It requires an awareness of its complexities, its relationships with other things/people/ideas in the world. It demands that one be more fully human than simply a collection of facts and procedures. Whether the job is fixing cars, writing essays, baking breads, or raising children-- doing it well requires much more than what you were taught in school.

This means that the students who do well, who I suspect will succeed in the end, have found ways to learn beyond what being a college student provides. They have found ways to supplement what they learn in college, ways to challenge and inform all aspects of who they are: as emotional beings, social beings, physical beings, creative beings, and so forth. They have valued the opportunity to experience the complexity and diversity of the world around them, and perhaps understood this experience as a fundamental base upon which to build their professional or career goals.

Why do you go to college? If it is to learn how to do a job well, how are you overcoming the limits of an ordinary college education?
Hi Jeff

I went to college the first time for a living, doing Medical Laboratory Science following up with a Masters in Business Studies.

I went to college the second time (in late middle age) to get a liberal education and to learn about areas that I had not had exposure to before. I now have a BA in the Humanities and it has been a life enrichening experience.

So I guess both reasons have their place.
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