College Degrees have Become Meaningless
College, as we know it in modern times, has become worthless. The idea of a university refers to Latin universitas, pioneered especially by Plato, describing a corporation of students interacting within an atmosphere that fosters genius, creates culture, and balances scientific research with artistic inquiry, among other things. The American university, however, as the modern template of higher education, has sucked out the passion and honesty needed to inspire such an environment.
Plato once advised, “Do not train children to learn by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” Such advice has been echoed throughout history by thinkers like Maria Montessori who strongly believed that teaching children involved encouraging them to ask questions, solve problems, and self-correct themselves in an applied manner. She emphasized the balanced individual who was conscious of family, health, and interaction while gaining a sense of competence and progress.
The atmosphere in which we now attempt to develop ourselves as intellectuals consists of a politically-correct, subdivided, unengaged, multiple-choice, black and white, never-below-the-surface education system that is overly sensitive to multiculturalism, free of strong opinions, and washed over with cement and handicap-accessible ramps. Part of this change most definitely lies in the fact that universities almost always used to be privately owned and controlled, were inspired by national identity and regional dialogues, and were generally made up of a small, privileged group of people.
This, of course, brings us to the fact that nearly everyone these days is pursuing higher education when the opportunity arises. And like everything else that becomes trendy and mass-produced, the unique qualities that once existed in the university setting have now merged with generally accepted international notions and approaches; that is, the university has become a consumer-oriented market that seems like little more than a stomping ground for the media and corporate world, free of originality, as it subconsciously becomes the biggest spoon in the great soup of globalization.
Albert Einstein, perhaps one of the last mystical figures in the modern intellectual world, seemed to describe our current situation best when he said, “Most teachers waste their time by asking questions which are intended to discover what a pupil does not know, whereas the true art of questioning has for its purpose to discover what the pupil knows or is capable of knowing.”
I couldn’t agree more. I can’t tell you how sick I am of walking into my new classes each quarter and having the only questions raised on the part of students involving something about grading scales, due dates, and other obsessive intricacies. The saddest part, however, is that our university professors are the ones instigating such an empty atmosphere, let alone the university system in general. I’m sure with enough money students might find a private university around somewhere that still encourages discussions, and raw honesty, and perhaps the pursuit of creative knowledge and fascination with life, but frankly, it simply seems to be a sign of the times more than anything else.
Bachelor degrees have become nothing more than a social status, a ticket to ride. Like a wise man from the UCI Humanities Dept. once told me, some degrees are like a California driver’s license: you can’t get by without one, but if you have one, no one gives a shit. And that, my friends, is the Catch-22, because no one would believe you saying a college degree was worthless unless you already had one under your belt.
I’m sure it has something to do with the culture that says art no longer needs to involve beauty; science is incompatible with religion; songs can’t be more than three and a half minutes long; and chatting is something you do on the internet behind a firewall because, well, you just never know. That same culture might be shocked to hear Galileo come forth and say, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use.”