The value of education (generally speaking)

The end of each school year always includes graduation, which in turn calls for thought about taking that giant leap from the friendly confines of high school into the big adult world.

Part of that process centers around the meaning of education. What exactly resulted from 13 years of K-12 school routines? What’s the best way to build on that with the next vitally important stage of life that begins after graduates take off their caps and gowns?

The purpose definitely includes becoming as equipped as possible to function in 21st century workplaces. With high costs of living, sizable monthly housing expenses, and a job market that often fluctuates both because of economic trends and changing technology; everyone has to think about how to build toward a comfortable way of life.

It does include being aware that the need for talent is much greater in fields like health care, manufacturing, information technology and finance than what might be found in professional sports and performing arts.

Also it’s worthwhile for high school students to gather information about the number of job openings that are expected in certain fields within the next 5-10 years, as well as the average starting wages.

There’s a point, however, where that line of thinking becomes too rigid. It gets that way when a mindset starts to form that general studies (classes that are required because they involve knowledge everyone who graduates from a post-secondary school should acquire and retain) is just a matter of jumping through hoops in order to get a two-year or four-year degree and thereby qualify for a higher-paying job with better career potential.

The question sometimes comes up if general studies is really needed. Even more frequently it gets asked if it’s needed enough to mandate paying for college credits, which often add up to about a third the cost of a college experience.

That much of a percentage wouldn’t be necessary if the whole purpose in life is just to eat, sleep, make as much money as possible, and hopefully make enough to do what you want with leisure time.

Generals mean more if the purpose also includes finding self-satisfaction, becoming better prepared to help others, being an informed citizen, and having well-rounded knowledge and interests that enrich life both at work and away from the job.

At least six or seven people have told me that they’d never read a book (other than a child’s picture book) cover to cover until a high school teacher or general studies college professor motivated them to spend extra time doing that, even though they could have easily earned an adequate grade by skimming the book.

In those situations, the A was better than a C. Even more importantly, they also remember the book later in life instead of forgetting everything they learned after taking a test or writing an essay.

The best one-person example I can think of that reflects how there’s value to having a broader approach is Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States from 1801 to 1809.

He was the head of state for a nearly new nation that he helped to form, but also had enough architectural and construction knowledge to design his own Virginia plantation home. The records he kept for the plantation include agronomy details that aren’t all that far removed from what took shape many years later at major land grant universities.

He also had enough economic vision, both domestic and international, to know the potential value of a bi-coastal expansion. It soon proved to be a much faster process because of the Gold Rush and railroad development, but what was accomplished when Jefferson organized the Lewis and Clark Expedition is commemorated more than 200 years later as the vital first step.

There’s no reason our 2019 graduates can’t have similar multiple talents. A lack of general studies, replacing them with rigid specialization at an earlier age, would greatly discourage it.

It would most likely push society in even more of a direction where individual recent graduates could tell the public everything it would ever want to know and a whole lot more besides about his or her particular specialty, but not be able to say anything substantial as to how it affects the big picture.

More simply, it’s the old saying about “missing the forest for the trees.” It’s also important not to miss valuable trees for the forest, but both extremes have to be kept in mind.

We’re all shaped by everything we learn. Every day or every class period is an opportunity to add to that. It’s all about being open to whatever they have to offer.