The Education Bug
What does education really mean today?
From the time man developed the tools to read and write, education has been a social status marker. Those who are educated are considered better-or at the very least, more intelligent-than those who are not. At first, it was only the rich and powerful who possessed the knowledge to read and write: kings, who led wars and people; priests and other religious figures who led the people spiritually; and scribes who took down what others would not or could not. Reading and writing, the very basis of learning, were not for the poor masses.
Time and the evolution of man have of course changed this, and the number of people who are illiterate is smaller than the number of people who are literate. However, this positive development has only given way to more intense markers of education, which in turn mark social status. In the Western world, just fifty years ago, it was most important for all children to graduate from high school. It was becoming more the norm for students to go to college afterward, both men and even women. College became the defining marker of education: those who went to college got the best jobs. They were the brightest; they often earned the most money, and even if they didn’t, they had the prestige of saying that they were a college graduate; after all, college, adjusted for inflation, still cost a lot of money even back then, although we would laugh at the fees now.
The 21st-century finds not just the Western world but the entire world facing what I would call the “Education bug,” or the education paradox, for one can call it no other. I have mentioned before in this blog the idea that the “desire to be educated” (in the sense of attending college) has brought about a profound problem, where people no longer want to be blue-collar workers, even if there is a good deal of dignity and money to be found in such jobs. As education has become more available-if you want to call massive loans “available-to the masses, it has been shoved so far up it’s prestigious stick that the bar constantly has to be raised, higher and higher.
The United States and Western Europe are not alone in this: even in a country like Egypt, which is one of those strange mix of old-world say-so and third-world grime, where you don’t want to call it a developing country but it’s hard when both human rights, human equality and the human poverty level are in such dire straights….even in Egypt a good deal of the urban population, in Cairo and Alexandria et al., goes to college. Actually, the Middle East and parts of South America (Chile and the current student riots comes to mind) are perfect examples of how, even in less-wealthy countries, the soaring education levels are resulting in a population that does not want to menial jobs. They in turn join the Western world in high unemployment rates and dissatisfaction (Asia alone, with it’s constant job creation, seems to be bypassing the whole education issue so far; Africa has hardly the grammar-school structure in most places to be worrying about the fact that a college education appears to no longer be good enough in this world).
Thus, we’ve seen education come full circle: from being something only the few and wealthy could pursue (were our ancestors prophetic in seeing where mass education would lead to? Or was this just population control at it’s most finesse?) to something that has quite frankly lost it’s value. With college students cramming for exams “just to pass,” fall asleep in class out of boredom and leave the school year barely retaining what they’ve learned, it’s easy to see that the meaning of being educated is lost, that intelligence and intellect are unimportant for their own sake.
As virtually anybody-whether or not they are actually intelligent or intellectually curious-can go to college, a new marker has to be designated to keep the rich and powerful as such and to separate them from the pack.
Is graduate school the new marker?
Quite reasonably; I’ve seen several students who I went to school as an undergrad with go onto graduate school. They were not all exceptionally intelligent nor “intellectual”; they were certainly not all open-minded, nor did they fit the stereotypical idea of who might go to graduate school. Most of them have probably gone on to graduate school simply because they feel this will take them one step further to getting a good job. Does it really? If we all start going to grad school, and college becomes just another hump to “get through,” what is the next marker? Getting ph.ds?
This week I found out that I was accepted to The New School for Public Engagement’s Milano School International Affairs Master of Arts program, starting step one in the goal to complete the number-one “to-do” on my Bucket List: attend graduate school for international relations. Words cannot describe how honored and humbled I am to have been accepted with scholarship to one of the best schools in the country. I cannot wait to be a student again. I cannot wait to go to class and flesh out the ideas that I’ve been working on for the past year on my blogs.
I cannot wait to continue my education-that is, study in a classroom, of course, since I never stopped studying in the first place!