‘Why do we have to go to school?” “Why are we doing this?” Teachers have heard this question from a few students ever since kids have been saying whatever they want.
Now, we see that this question has gone to college (“Proud dropouts,” Tribune, June 13).
Actually, when my students ask, “Why are we doing this?” I say, “Good question! You should be asking that and if we don’t have a good reason, then the class better stop and do something else.”
“Raise your hand if a teacher ever told you that the reason you need an education is to get a good job.”
Of course, hands go up.
“Well, that teacher was not telling you the whole truth.” (That newspaper was not telling you the whole truth).
The reason to get an education is to develop capacity. We see people with no capacity at all, no capa-city to enjoy life, to appre-ciate beauty, to develop a thought, no capacity for empathy, no capacity to understand community. They are, like, shriveled up, tight, into themselves. We want to be ever larger, more open and then we truly appreciate and enjoy life. That is why we need an education.
I tell my students that it is their job to learn. No teacher (and certainly no federally mandated or district-mandated tests)can make students learn. Each person has to do the work and give the attention and effort to learn, to make those mental connections, to ask questions. Every day you work in class, your brain actually changes, new synapses are formed that could probably show up on some kind of scan.
I tell them it may be possible to go through four years of high school and learn absolutely nothing, spending the time texting, daydreaming, secretly listening to one’s iPod as one waits for the bell to ring. (That’s about as exciting as waiting in the dentist’s office. No wonder some students say school is boring.)
We read in “Proud dropouts” that two university professors have noticed that college students can also go through four years and not learn much either. (Some front yard beer parties have made us suspect as much.)
It takes focus and hard work on a student’s part to take advantage of a college education. It takes perseverance to make it through more than one semester before dropping out and daydreaming of going to South America, but actually drifting into UnCollege. Some waste the opportunity that others would treasure, if they could afford to go to college.
Laurel Rosenhall’s article ends with statistics showing that college educations mean higher salaries and an economic edge, but it never addresses the intrinsic benefit of a well-rounded college education to the individual person. “Knowledge is power,” but it is also perspective. The article also fails to address why we need a society of educated people. We used to live in a democracy where the government was of the people, by the people and for the people, and we needed educated people to run the country.
Corporations have taken over (not directly, but through the money they spend to put the people they want into place), and since a corporation is not a person (in spite of the impeachable Supreme Court), there are many policy decisions coming down that do not benefit real people. Cutting funds and undermining education have been relentless modus operandi for the last several years, and this Thiel Foundation is now paying 24 teenagers $100,000 each to drop out of college and “pursue entrepreneurship.” It’s not as if this is an invitation to follow one’s dreams; it appears they have a specific job, to build the UnCollege movement.
To reassert the kind of country we would like to live in we need people with new ideas and creative approaches, but we also need people who have the capacity to see the present in the context of history, who value intrinsic worth, who understand the interconnectedness of life itself, who know how to work together and who have an education. There is certainly more than one way to get an education, but it can never be merely equated to a paycheck, and it is cynical and twisted to bribe and fool young people into a false notion that college is a waste of time. Adrienne Dickinson has been a teacher at Arroyo Grande High School since 2001.