Saturday, January 31, 2009


This morning a friend said, "Sheila, you're such a rebel," because I was leading a mini-retreat at our church, and we always keep a candle burning in our midst. Our church is not a candle-burning church as some are, and it occurred to me that it's likely against some fire code to burn candles in the building. After mentioning this, I said, "Oh, well, we're going to keep our candle burning," which provoked the comment from my friend.

It's probably the first time the word "rebel" has been applied to me, and we all laughed. But as I said to her, "In my quiet way, I am a rebel."

And something in me is rebelling right now. I recently read an article by Stanley Fish, written in response to a book, The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities, by Frank Donoghue. It's about the way colleges and universities are becoming more and more driven by the bottom line, and the way our whole society has developed in such a way that "higher education" has become nothing more than a step on the road to getting a job.

This has led to all kinds of results on college campuses, and I won't go into it all, because you can look the article up and read it.

I grew up as the daughter of a college professor. My dad has degrees in church history, biblical languages, and education. While I was in college, I went through majors in music, elementary education, and finally settled on an English degree. I have about two years' worth more credits than are required for a degree. My master degree in counseling includes about 30% more hours than are required at most school for a similar degree, because of the theology classes. My husband has a wonderful job not even directly related to his degree.

I believe strongly in what has been called a liberal arts education. I believe that in order to be a society worth living in, people need to study history and literature and poetry and all kinds of things that may never directly relate to their getting a job.

I believe professors can do better work if they are sure they will have a job the following year, and students learn better if they can form relationships with professors, knowing that they will be around the following year. (The bottom-line approach has resulted in less job security for teachers.)

I think it's quite sad what is happening, and I believe that years from now, if anyone cares enough about history to study it, they will look at American culture and trace much of its decline to this shift in priorities in our educational system.

Drazen has a book in his office with a clever title: If Your Life Were a Business, Would You Invest in It? It's about learning to manage your life the way CEO's manage their companies. (I must say, I do think it's clever. And for CEO's and managers, I'm sure it has some good ideas.)

That said, I don't WANT to manage my life the way a CEO manages his company, because my life is not a company, and it's not about how much money I can make, or how much stuff I can produce.

My response to that title is, "It all depends on what kinds of dividends you're looking for." I would invest in my life, not because it makes money, or because it is successful in any measurable way. I would invest (and do invest) in my life because it results in friendships and beauty and gratitude and joy and understanding and love.

And I think education ought to teach people, to some degree at least, how to love life, not just how to get the most out of it in measurable terms.

My beloved English teacher once wrote a quotation on his chalkboard, something like, "The real purpose of getting an education is not simply to earn your bread, but to make every mouthful sweeter."

Of course that's a matter of opinion, and it looks as if the majority of the American education system has another opinion. But ideas have consequences, as they say. (Now there's another book I ought to read, Weaver's book by that title.) And my rebellious spirit will refuse forever to accept the idea that education is only about how to make a living, because the consequences of that idea are very likely showing up in what is happening right now with our economy. And that's only the beginning.

Any other rebels out there?


Carolinagirl said...

I would invest in my life; the good and the bad. I wonder how many companies out there can say that each investment that has done well along with each investment that has done poorly has truly made those companies what they are today.

I can remember in the 80s when the degree to have was anything in business administration. I think colleges now are re-imaging themselves to the 21st century. I do think that college is a stair step into the work field. I think those who take the time to earn a degree show future employers that they've the discipline to go and stay the course.

Some things we can learn while on the job; other things we can only learn in a classroom.

I like what you said about having professors who stay around from year to year and students who know they will be. So much is becoming online oriented. Whatever happened to face-to-face meetings instead of online chat rooms?

For certain ranks in the military, one must attend a develeopmental school. Those schools ususally took you back to the site of your advanced individual training where you were in touch with others in your job specialty. Now, so much of those schools are being done online to cut costs. Cutting cost can't replace knowing face-to-face who your peers are.

Being a rebel is a good thing.

Lucy said...

Very eloquently put, and all true, I think.