A couple of days ago Fox Business began its provocative “Fewer Americans value a college degree” article with the startling observation that “Americans are losing faith in the value of a college degree, with majorities of young adults, men and rural residents saying college isn’t worth the cost.”
This wouldn’t have surprised a professor at our local state engineering college who routinely challenged his students with the question “Is there any class that you’re taking here that you couldn’t teach yourself if you were really motivated?” Books at home or in a library have been the path to self-learning for centuries.
Medieval scholars studied on their own until they eventually asked the best and brightest to “examine” them. Directed questioning indicated the depth and breadth of the applicant’s knowledge, leading to either “go back and study” or an award of a title such as doctor.
The biggest obstacle to self-education is simply motivation. This is a moral problem, not an intellectual one. Desire and willingness are typically directed away from learning–toward the material benefits of making more money and enjoying a consumer lifestyle.
Motivated students don’t need to interact with other students to express their opinions. Continued research and reading will do a much better job of making diverse viewpoints available. Writing will serve as a test of how well they know what they’ve read.
Finally, motivated students don’t need to listen to college lecturers, who typically attempt to explain what is not clear in the text. Why, then, did the professor choose a text that wasn’t clear? Or fail to write one that is clear? Could it be that such explanation actually supports those students who never planned to read the text anyway?
Dakota-bred writer Louis L’Amour argued in Education of a Wandering Man that “Actually, all education is self-education. A teacher is only a guide, to point out the way, and no school, no matter how excellent, can give you education.” It’s wrongheaded to just associate education with children, when learning is needed throughout life.
His words are more prescient today than ever. People are inoculated against questioning basic assumptions. Television drills its messages nonstop into our consciousness, with little chance to examine the unrelenting stream of spin. You are told what to think and what your values should be.