Calculating the Value of Education Involves the Sum of the Stories

A friend is retiring from his counselling practice after 40 years, much of it spent working with fathers' difficulties relating to their children after divorces. His success provided him many opportunities to present his approaches and techniques to various groups across the country. He was encouraged by colleagues to write his techniques and present them to universities where the approach could be shared with students preparing for careers in counselling. He prepared the material and sent it to faculties at several institutions in the hopes of sharing his experience. He was told politely that his models were oriented to men and did not fit with the current view that a reliance on “male perspective” was detrimental to women and, regardless of the practical success, it could not be a part of a university curriculum.

Anecdotes of education are everywhere this time of year as students mark achievements and many include the influence of politically correct education. All of those stories of academic success are tempered this year with the stories of the debts incurred while earning those degrees. When Peter Thiel added his voice to the growing concern that the next financial bubble will be student loans, a new thread of stories has been added that questions the value of a college education. Federal policy supporting student loans may be the new flash point in our current economic malaise and political conversation is now being painted in stories that have the theme “a college education is not worth it.” Reducing the dynamic economic issues to stories of students that support a particular political view can be seen in blogs like Beneath the Wheel:

Sadly, this downward spiral is primarily an issue that can only be addressed by the liberal Democrats. The Republican right has failed at every subject save for law and finance, and prefers an illiterate population it can more easily manipulate through flawed logic and reasoning. Hence the propensity to cut public education, especially for those in greatest need.

For several years, education has been a battlefield of special interest groups. Over reliance on testing has created a generation of students who have been taught to pass tests while the test scores are used to justify the need for more voucher supported alternatives. Creation and biological scientists seemingly roam the nation looking for the next place to argue to exclude the others point of view. In the same year that Mark Twain's exhaustive memoirs became available, a version of “Huckleberry Finn” without the word “nigger” was being prepped for publication so that the book could return to classrooms without creating offense. In a decade marked by scandals of plagiarism and falsified data published by many of our most distinguished academic journals, faculty members defend the position that they need to treat the classroom as their “bully pulpit” in order to make sure students learn the “right” answer to life's questions.

The defining oral tradition of higher education has been that it was the key to a successful career path. The current generation of experience is vastly different from the stories of student activism in the 60's when students stormed administration buildings to demand input into their educational experience. Are the stories of today's student completely opposite in that they are so crushed under mounting debt that they dare not challenge any part of the system?

There are stories of education in Story Chip, in fact, there is a separate page devoted to the short life of Kirkland College, in Clinton, New York. One of our contribtors described her story of learning as the day her 3rd grade teacher brought in a grinder to make tortillas in the manner of native Texans. For her, hands on learning freed her mind. None of these stories discuss the dollar value of education or how much the ability to pass a particular test has contributed to their success.

My psychologist friend is jumping into his retirement by picking up mallets and chisels to learn stone carving. He is planning on enrolling in classes in art history so that he can better understand the carvings of the native cultures of North and South America. His wife tells her story of college as a time learning to think, solve problems and appreciate the blessings of culture. Personal histories of lifelong education may join the traditions of grinding corn by hand as education moves into an era of politically correct learning and profit and loss statements taking precedence over personal growth.

My story that defines education concerns a young woman in one of my classes whose view on most things was just completely opposite of my own. At the end of the semester, she came to me and thanked me for challenging everyone in the class to think about things and seek to understand multiple viewpoints. She finished by saying that she had never before taken a class that she felt completely free to express her opinions without fear that they would be demeaned in any way. I was flattered by her comments but disappointed that my colleagues could not accomplish what I felt was basic skill of teaching on all levels.

Some of the stories are very old and can only be seen in stone carvings and other stories are as fresh as this year's diplomas. You are invited to add your story to Story Chip.

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