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Escape From CCSF: Worth it?

The Guardsman

Becca Hoekstra

It wasn’t supposed to get this personal: it was supposed to be a bi-weekly column discussing issues in education with a title that doesn’t quite make sense.

But it’s boiled down to a very difficult, rather important question: is college worth it? (With “it” being a rather abstract notion based in the ability to think critically and be financially successful.)

I’ve witnessed the fall of critical thinking and the rise of standardized testing. I’m aware of the cavernous pit of student debt waiting to swallow anyone who’s confident enough to sign the dotted line. I see the value of a degree and recognize that soon a bachelor’s will be required to bag groceries. I’ve been taught the definition of success is not very broad. I’m not sure if I’m too smart, or just too pessimistic, for a college education.

A very intelligent individual, Ariel Armelino, told me she wasn’t proud that she completed her undergrad. To her, it was a “waste of time hurdle”  and she doesn’t “feel much smarter or much more prepared than [she] did four years ago”.

She’s continuing to pursue her Ph.D. in psychology, and says, “I don’t think that the meaningful classes make up for the waste of time, but because I am such an academic I keep pursuing them in hope that someone, somewhere will teach me something a textbook and multiple-choice exam cannot.”

Of course, there are others (notably more in the sciences, though even some from the humanities) who agree that their education was “completely worth it” — though a few admitted that a large part of their education could have been skipped, and that if classes were more focused on understanding than fact learning, they would have been much more meaningful.

Most say that only the later part of their education challenged and educated them. All agree on the fact that good teachers matter; however instructors that emphasize correlation and critical thought over memorization and regurgitation seem to be the exception, not the rule.

So is college worth it? It depends on the school, on the teachers, on the area of study, but mostly it depends on you.

A large part of our education system is a dying relic created in the interests and image of industrialization, according to education expert Sir Ken Robinson. We are put through a standardization process that ensures we all graduate with the ability to spout a required number of facts.

This may have worked in the past, but that doesn’t come close to being quality education anymore. We don’t have to depend on an individual standing in front of a chalkboard for all our information now; those facts can be accessed with the touch of a finger via the internet.

It’s no longer important to learn which of the four given answers is right — but rather, what are the right questions to ask when there is a world’s worth of information within reach. I definitely don’t need to be told anymore information, but rather I need to be taught how to control the amount of data I am absorbing before my head explodes.

However, there is a huge difference for education in science degrees, from computer science to medicine, where the more facts you know the easier it is to apply knowledge to real-life conundrums.

Don’t get me wrong, I encourage educational pursuits, especially at City College, where education is much more affordable. It is vital to have the ability to collaborate with peers, or take a class from an amazing teacher, or be forcibly exposed to a parade of new ideas. But a bachelor’s degree shouldn’t be a job requirement if getting it turns out to be a waste of time and money.

We are attempting to go to school at the crux of a new era in which education has yet to catch up with technology. Even though it costs more than ever before, the school system is failing us — not grade-wise, but brain-wise.

Studies have shown that the first two years of college are based on fact memorization and a lack of application just like high school. Subject-specific education — like that of a graduate degree — needs to be given to us far earlier.

It’s not only a matter of increased fees causing a mountain of debt, or aging tenured professors coasting for life at the expense of innovative part-time teachers that we have to clamour about. It is our right to be taught, not just lectured to. That’s what TED talks are for.

I’m grateful to City College for providing classes that challenge my ability to think critically — though there may not be as many as I’d like. I am beyond thankful for the teachers and students who have bettered my mind. And dear lord am I glad that I have a mountain of experience rather than debt upon my shoulders.

I wish you the best in your educational fight, readers.

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The Guardsman