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June 25, 2013


On Klinkenborg and Brooks' pieces, I can verify my generation seeks immediate use value out of their educations. Anecdotal though it may be, I'll provide the example of a conversation I had with a friend 5 years ago as representative of many other conversations and what the statistics in this AAAS study show. As context, we were discussing the purpose of opening a business.

Me: "Businesses are service providers first and their profitability is dependent on their doing that job first. In fact, they have a moral obligation to do their job well."

Friend: "No... Business is for making money. The service they provide comes second."

And that, at least to me, uncovers the literal-mindedness that Klinkenborg talks about. Education, through pressure from test-driven education systems and parents, teaches kids these days that they must extract value from it. That this use value is the only reason to learn. I think this attitude and degree-escalation are responsible for driving higher education into a place where its become about economics rather than scholarship.

Hi Sharat, thanks for this thoughtful comment - I'm glad to hear a direct response from the generation in question. For yourself, personally, how do you view your education? Do you feel you are different from your friends? How much of the pressure to have an education "pay off" comes from parents? And do you and your peers feel you are missing something if you don't take courses in literature, art, music, philosophy, history, etc?

I will try to answer your questions in order (though my mind is far from orderly, and thus I make no promises):

1. I am very grounded in education as a means of self-knowledge, and self-knowledge as a basis for affecting the world (the social mores of my time) in a positive manner. My spirituality plays a huge part in why I seek knowledge. I also just love reading (novels, encyclopedias, dictionaries, scholarly essays, what have you). Having recently begun delving into the vast array of postcolonial studies writings, I also tend to side with the humanities in the debate more as I've found the historical foundations of science (which has been "winning" the knowledge debate in modern European culture for a while) are based on a violence to more traditional forms of knowledge, knowledge that may be covered by religious dogma, but knowledge nonetheless. Science and technology, at the pace they've developed since WWII, have encouraged an atemporal view of the world, ie the world was always as it is. That attitude is dangerously disengaging: when I catch myself in that frame of mind it makes me feel that I have no political agency.

2. My friends are a good deal more grounded in modern ways of thinking: logic, science, athiest, etc. So though I agree with many of the conclusions science has given us, we think about the process of arriving at that knowledge very differently.

3. I think like other societal influences there is no easy point of causation to blame. They too are under pressure from a society which tells them that their children won't have secure futures unless they pursue hard sciences (or in the case of my Indian heritage: doctors or engineers). That's a real worry. And the president of my adopted country takes every State of the Union to push STEM teaching, so they've no reason to question that, do they?

4. I think if they don't think at least a bit historically about whatever it is they're into (chemistry, biology, physics, math, programming) they miss the forest for the trees. My example is of my father and the team of programmers he manages. My father began programming with punch cards and has, over the span of his career, worked at every level of programming language abstraction (from the 0 and 1s of binary to HTML). The new hires have only taken the courses in the latest in-language in computer science education. So when a problem occurs in the coding, my father can figure things out even though he doesn't know the new programming languages: his experience of the history of computing has given him the toolset to solve computer problems regardless of the domain. Similarly, if physicists look back at, say, Newton, they'll see that he was into physics, mathematics (he invented calculus!), and interpretation of the Bible. Not many physicists today can claim that. Specialization in scholarship, a force in education that stems from the Industrial Revolution and is firmly tied to the enslavement of the worker's political and social power to his wages, is damaging to peoples' skepticism. So, while I'd love everyone to love Shakespeare and medieval and Early Modern lit/history as much as I do, I'd rather have them delve into the history of their craft so that they can be aware of the amazing scope of the project of human knowledge they're a part of. (Historical awareness is the beginning of political enfranchisement in my mind)

Thanks for asking, I hope I didn't just ramble!

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