In “The Case Against College”, Caroline Bird questions the necessity of college and the education it provides. She states that college is accepted–without question. She holds that conventional wisdom and evidence show all high school graduates will be more responsible, and better than those who do not go. Bird’s column is devoted to tearing down the college institution. She fails to recognize the many benefits and purposes of college.
Bird points out that there are many college graduates selling shoes and driving cabs. She fails to mention that there are many college graduates doing medical research, managing corporations, teaching children and practicing law. She writes, “We’ve been told that young people have to go to college because our economy can’t absorb an army of untrained eighteen-year-olds.” (pg. 39). But, where did this info come from? Is this fact or opinion? She goes on to say, “But disillusioned graduates are learning that it can no longer absorb an army of trained twenty-two-year-olds, either….” (pg. 40). The world is going to ‘absorb’ these people whether they attend college or not, no matter what their age. Isn’t it better that they are absorbed with some training and education that goes beyond the basics of high school? I think so. I think a college education does create a better person.
With the exception of certain majors and fields of study such as law or medicine, college does not necessarily prepare a person for any vocation. College teaches an individual to develop his or her ability to learn. The mind is much like the muscles of our bodies; it needs to be taxed in order to improve. College offers the opportunity to develop study skills, explore the arts, religion, philosophy and science. It causes people to examine more closely that which they take at face value. Aren’t most Americans misled about the history of our country? Secondary school teaches us to be patriotic. Black involvement in our history barely receives an honorable mention. Slavery is glossed over and romanticized. Only the Americans who go to college ever have an opportunity to take classes such as Western Civilization, African-American History and U.S. History. It is these Americans that learn the Civil War may have been lost to the South if not for the Black involvement, and their many discoveries made by Blacks. In college, we learn to question that which we have learned. College can whet an appetite for the truth.
Bird talks about unidentified studies that ridicule what college has done for graduates several years after completion. She quotes graduates as saying that college should have “helped me to formulate the values and goals of my life.” Have these people forgotten that they are autonomous? Don’t they realize that the raison d’être of higher education is to provide opportunity? The old adage applies; you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink; well, you can enroll a student in college but becoming educated is up to the individual. What about those college graduates who are selling shoes and driving taxis. Are shoe sales clerks and cab drivers less important to the world than bankers and doctors? The education received in college is a cure for ignorance. It causes people to question the world, to develop their own values and understand that there are many different views on any given topic. These are desirable traits in people whether they are shoe sales clerks or congressional representatives.
Ms. Bird evidently started to question college after her own college education. Maybe we do need to re-examine college. Rather than question its necessity we should evaluate its purpose. Far too many parents and high school students think college will be the answer to a successful career. College’s real or beneficial purpose is to provide the foundation for a successful life.
Bird suggests that we look at college as more of a consumer product. She suggests we decide if college is right for us based on cost vs. value, future returns and continued dependency. Viewing college in this manner is like viewing marriage as a business arrangement. This view lowers college to a level shared by televisions and automobiles. No consumer product can improve the fabric of a person’s character. College has that ability and does not belong on the shelf or in a dealer’s showroom.