University Isn’t Everything

This is the final post in our series “What Students Think Should Change About School.”  In today’s post, Ruth explains that our fixation on getting everyone to university means a poorer education for everyone.

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Society has this idea that certain levels of education are necessary for a person to have any worth. I think this is a ridiculous idea that is harming students today. In many circles, a person is told they must at least have a college bachelor’s degree in order to get a job or be respected in society. Just going to a technical school or learning a trade is not enough anymore. And yet, if everyone is getting a college degree, then soon even that will not be enough. How far will we push those outrageous expectations?

Because of those expectations and the increased attendance rate at universities and colleges, it seems that our value of education is lowering dramatically. With increased class sizes and more and more fees everywhere a student turns it is so difficult for the average student to get a good education. I know so many students (including myself) who have to take a packed class load while working one or two jobs on the side just to get by without starving. How is a student to get a quality education while stressed to the max?

The thing that has frustrated me the most in my college career has been the useless classes I have had to take. I realize that part of this is because I am going to a liberal arts Bible college. However, I do not think a student should be forced to take (and PAY for!) classes that they do not need. That part of the system is definitely messed up. College is not the place for high school students to play catch-up at the expense of their fellow students.

The last comment I have to make is about how prepared college students are to actually face the world. My biggest complaint is with the Teacher Licensure programs around the country. I had so many teachers in high school fresh out of college that had no idea how to actually function in a classroom and deal with students. When a carpenter learns his trade, he does not spend the majority of his time sitting on his backside learning theories of carpentry. He also does not spend only a few months doing actual hands-on carpentry. If such a method would not work for a carpenter, then how can we expect it to work for a teacher? Teaching really is a skill that cannot be learned sitting in a room learning theories and making cut-outs. Students of teaching need to BE teachers and spend most of their time practicing in order to become skilled. Most Teacher Licensure students at my college spend three and a half years in the classroom with a practicum thrown here or there and only one semester actually teaching. Even though it is not my personal goal to become a teacher, I have spent almost every summer for the past seven years working in a summer school classroom. Comparing my experience with what some of my friends are learning in a classroom shows a major discrepancy in ability and skill level. My exposure and experience actually being in the classroom have prepared me more than years of sitting in class have prepared them.

It seems that the push for a college education has caused schools to create degrees for things that do not need a conventional college degree. Students are then forced to sit through boring and unnecessary classes in order to achieve their goals.

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What do you think of Ruth’s perspective?  Is it true that pushing everyone to go to university makes for useless degrees, boring classes and an inadequate education?  Please leave your thoughts below!

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Previous posts in this series:

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I’ll be taking a hiatus next week to take care of some other matters, so I’ll see you again on October 24.

Image by Piotr Lewandowski

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14 responses

  1. I agree with some of her points, and not others. I do agree that college should not be for everyone. I personally think there is value in pursuing other options, like technical schools and such. Some people are simply not cut out for it. Their talents are in other areas. I think it is true that we need to value talents of all kinds.

    As far as taking classes that students think are boring or that they don’t need–this is where I do not agree as much. I must say that I get fatigued, as a teacher, of students telling me what their education should or should not include. They come to university, pay and work hard for experts in the field to educate them, and then want to dictate what they think they need to know. Part of the college experience, in my opinion, is finding value in learning in and of itself. College is to learn how to think, not just learning a specific skill set. I am not sure if Ruth is saying classes are not needed because they are remedial (which, in that case, I think students should have the option to prove competancy), or if she is saying it is her perception she does not need certain classes because she feels it does not pertain. For instance, my daughter is studying English in college. She does not care for math. She does not think she will ever need or use it. She sometimes feels like studying math is a waste of time. I disagree. Studying math–simply for “math’s sake,” is intrinsically valuable for the brain itself. Chances are she won’t use it on a day to day basis, but that time she spent studying it only has improved her brain and how it works. Same goes for the study of humanities for those in more technical fields. The study and exposure to the subject matter itself is worthwhile. It helps make a student a “Student of humanity.” If you have a very narrow view of why you are in college (ie. to get a certain job) then you will probably feel that the majority of classes is a waste of time. If you are in college to learn how to think and learn, and are “Teachable,” you will graduate a thinking, well-rounded individual.

    • I agree there is a certain value to variety in education. Most programs allow for students to take a lot of elective courses without delaying their degrees. Why not encourage students to use those electives to explore subjects in a very different field than their majors? In my undergraduate degree, which was in English, I used my electives to get two minors in other humanities fields. (Before anyone tells me off for that, this was pre-2008, when an English major wasn’t the death sentence many consider it to be today. Also, after the stock market crashed I went to graduate school, which is probably why I’m not on the streets now.) As interesting as my minors were, I wish I had broadened my perspective more and learned more math and science. In some ways it’s a shame that most of us go to college at 18 instead of 26. I know I would make different choices now.

    • I am predominantly referring to remedial classes. I do not know what other colleges are like, of course, but my college spends a lot of time and energy on babying people who are not ready for college at the expense of other students. I have nothing against helping students who are behind, but I do not think it should be at the expense of my own education and that of my classmates.

      I do respect your position and agree that what students need is more important than what they want. I do not think that it is impossible for students to also know what they need (sometimes even better than the professors). Even in such situations, though, students should still be respectful of their professors and understand that they do not know everything and their may be something more to the situation than what meets the eye. For example, there are currently three classes in my major that overlap quite a bit. Because they are taught by different professors the overlap is only noticed by the students in the classes. A classmate and I recently talked the situation over with one of the professors and he said he would look into it and see if something needed to be changed. Both my classmate and I were very respectful when talking to him and merely asked about the situation rather than blindly demanding change. Of course, each situation is unique as each person is unique.

      I understand the concept of being a “student of humanity,” but I think there are more perspectives that are currently crowding the ideals of education. Since college is getting more and more expensive, for those of us who work hard to pay for classes each class holds a different value than for students in years past. If I must work myself to the point of exhaustion in order to take a particular class, just getting what I can out of it is not enough. With more and more students in my situation, each class takes on a new meaning. Most students that I know cannot afford to go to school just for the fun of learning. Learning I can do everyday, anywhere and on my own. Although I do wish for a time when we can gather at college to learn for the sake of learning, that ideal is becoming more and more impractical.

      • While I do agree with you on some points, I do think remedial classes can be necessary. It does not necessarily mean that a student is ill equiped for college, but taking those courses does mean that they are ill equiped for that subject.

  2. I agree with the teaching aspect of the post. Every teacher I have known received their experience the first year of teaching. Most often it was a rude wake-up call. My first year as a special education teacher (despite all the theory and law classes) in no way prepared me for the very real life of a classroom co-teacher serving 115 students a day, differentiating instruction for up to 7 special needs students at different levels of functioning in one room with 21 other students, writing legally binding documents to accomplish goals, designing specific instruction or interventions to meet those goals (in a regular classroom), and dealing with parents. That was learned my first year, the hard way, via tears and frustration. We have teaching hospitals, why not teaching schools?

    • I love the idea of teaching schools! I do think that some theory is necessary. That way, when things aren’t working in your classroom, you have something in your toolbox to fix the problem. (I currently have a student teacher who is alt certified and has had no theory courses. It shows. That doesn’t mean he’s not a good teacher, but he’s never heard of modeling, guided practice, and independent practice. He doesn’t have the tools.) That said, nothing better prepares you teach than actually teaching.*

      • Definitely agree with Amy. The theory is important, but I also agree that nothing can replace the experience of actually being a teacher in a classroom. The theory is what you fall back on when things aren’t working. It helps you to know what to do, what activities to try. My teacher prep program had the best of both worlds. Plenty of theory and plenty of time actually spent in classrooms. Though I made many mistakes my first year teaching, as anyone would, I know that I still did a great job and that I was more than prepared. Now, 5 years later, I see how naive I was in some of those early lessons, but they were still good lessons and I never had any issues with classroom management or control. I also firmly believe that great teachers have an innate ability that they are born with to be great teachers. It is something that cannot be taught. You can teach someone to be a good and competent teacher though, and that’s what programs should be focusing on.

  3. I do agree that what we are continuing to require of students in higher education is starting to become rediculous. Will the average joe need a master’s degree to accomplish the easiest tasks in five years? What about twenty years…will “they” need a Ph.D. just to get a job in business?

    I do believe in education and in higher education in some way. Whether it is a technical school, community college, or four year university, Americans are going to school now for jobs that don’t even exist. A college degree or degree of some sort past high school will at least better equip them for those unknown jobs. A liberal arts college will give a student the opportunity too to explore different aspects of the world through their basic required courses and may even open doors to students who never thought about being a business person, getting into politics, writing, art, or even the sciences.

    Colleges are expensive and unfortunately don’t guarantee a job in this economy, but they can at least give students a basis for their future.

  4. I love education., but education is not equal to a college degree. She is right about that. Some people should simply not be in university but out there learning by trying the old fashioned traineeships. Both for office jobs and hand/skillbased jobs
    I have seen so many people coming from university, as Ruth is indicating with teachers, that really knew nothing about the real world and how it worked. They knew the theory and the books, but how to put it in practice, no clue.

  5. Ruth, I agree with all you have stated and more. You have hit the nail on the head for some very serious flaws in our educational system. If education were a be all to end all, the wealthiest and most successful in our country would be the most educated. As it is, that is not so.

    Personally, I even think some of what students have to take in high school is useless and a waste of time. I mentioned that in a post on another blog, and the response to it was that everything is necessary so our young people have a “foundation” of education by the time they graduate from high school. My response to that was, if they are in school 12-13 years of their lives by the time they are 18, and all they are coming out with is a “foundation”….we are doing something wrong!!

    Education, like the sports industry, like the pharmaceutical industry, like the technology industry, like illegal drugs, (I could go on) are all huge money-making behemoths in our country and those that prosper from them want absolutely no change whatsoever. In the end you have to do whats right for yourself, and not buy in to all the rubbish.

    • Your last paragraph is one of the things that also frustrate me. When discussing my opinions about the education system with others, I am often told that I should go “change the system.” While I definitely wish that I could do so, I do not think it is as easy as it sounds. Those who are benefiting from the current system will not be happy if that system is changed. It almost seems like the students are no longer important. Now, it is more about politics and money and test scores than actual education.

  6. Speaking as a teacher, I can explain why teacher training programs exist as they are, rather than as the practical training they should be. It is because the law in various states has dictated which courses need to be included in the programs. I was certified in Colorado about 25 years ago, and can give you a couple of examples from that time and place.

    One new course everyone was required to take was “Instructional Technology.” The reason for that was that so many teachers got into classrooms and could not run the movie projectors. So legislators passed a law saying that was a new course so that teachers could run these machines. When I took this class, I was one of the people who had no idea how to run a movie projector (not being a machine-oriented person) and we had an instructor who announced the first day, “I am NOT going to teach you how to run machines!” (He was basically saying, “that is for idiots.”) He said, “I’m going to teach you how to create your own slide presentations (with a bell when it’s time to move each slide).” When I got out and was substituting in various schools, unfortunately, I STILL did not know how to run the movie projectors and had to ask for students’ assistance. Within a couple years I was teaching overseas, where I’ve been ever since. The technology revolution pretty much bypassed our school, which just got desktop computers for secondary teachers only (not primary teachers) last year. I’m no longer in that school, but the last two years I was there, I still had no idea how to use new computer-based slide and projection technologies. Meanwhile, our school did not even have an overhead projector (only chalk boards). So this course, legislated by Colorado to solve a specific problem, ended up not solving that problem, and furthermore, technology moves on very quickly. Even if we had learned to run the movie projectors, what we were taught in the class was out-of-date within five years maximum.

    Another course we had to take (a good one) was about all types of handicaps and about how to mainstream handicapped children in our classrooms, should we find ourselves in that situation. It involved studying many different types of handicaps (blindness, deafness, and many other conditions) and how to make IEPs (Individual Education Plans) for each such child (as required by law) who might get into one of our classes in the future. But this was all on paper, no practical experience with actually teaching such a child. This required course was in response to the law which now required such children to be mainstreamed.

    Another course (which turned out to be the most useful course of my teaching career) was called “Reading in the Content Area.” I was getting certified in Secondary Social Studies, and all those who were getting certified in Secondary fields had to take this course. This was also a course mandated by the legislature in response to a very specific problem, that most secondary students are not able to read and get much meaning out of their text books. I had a fantastic teacher. She basically taught us many techniques for making up our own study guides which would both help and force students to interact with the material and get meaning out of it. When I moved overseas, I ended up teaching only in elementary, but used the techniques we were taught constantly to my students’ great benefit.

    So, the question of why is teacher training so based in theory is because of state legislators making it so in order to deal with specific legal requirements or as an idea of a way to fix specific problems in education locally. By making all prospective teachers have all these classes, it no doubt reduces their legal liability. In some states, any adult can substitute. In Colorado, no one except a certified teacher is permitted to step into the classroom even as a substitute.

    –Lynne Diligent, Dilemmas of an Expat Tutor
    Expattutor.wordpress.com

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