What with tuition costs skyrocketing, have you ever stopped to consider the quality of the education your kids are gonna get in college? It better be good, right? And yet, according to an article in Time Magazine, less than half of college graduates can identify John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
I’ll give you a clue kids: he’s the youngish looking guy in the middle of the group! Though honestly, if I saw him out of context — say, standing in line for a coffee dressed in stone-washed jeans and a Phish tee-shirt — I don’t know if I’d recognize him either. Does that make me an uninformed citizen?
The hallmark of higher education in America has been producing a well-rounded functioning member of society, and yet how we define “well-rounded” has been open to debate since the birth of our education system. Not all students learn the same things at every college and university. The University of Chicago is famous for its Great Books program and curriculum, while the joke at my alma mater, Oberlin College, was that you could be an English major and never have read a book published before the 1900′s.
Most essential to success in the 21st Century, I think, is possessing the intellectual self-awareness to know when you don’t know something, having a hungry curiosity to fill those zones of ignorance, and being savvy enough to pick up new skills. In other words, being a life-long learner.
I was reminded of this when I saw that Jimmy Kimmel segment that’s been going viral, where Angelenos on the street are asked if they prefer Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act. The joke is, they’re the same thing by different names. This clip has been going around with comments like “this is the problem with Americans today – they’re so uninformed!” But the real problem is that people weighed in on the subject, instead of just admitting they were clueless, or reaching for a smartphone for help. (I’m sure some did this, we just didn’t see them.)
There’s no shame in not knowing something. However, pretending to know what you’re talking about when you do not, or making a decision based on ignorance, isn’t the smartest life strategy.
The end of college (or grad school, or what-have-you) does not mark the conclusion of your education. The world is ever-changing, and we need to keep up with it. A college has done a good job not if it’s provided students with intellectual fish, but if it’s taught them how to fish for themselves. That process begins now, in childhood.
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