Rethinking education

The College gives us tremendous academic freedom. We only have to take a few classes in order to meet the Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI), divisional, writing intensive and quantitative reasoning requirements. Once we fulfill those requirements with classes of our choice, the College no longer has any input on our educational path. The College believes we should take a few classes in different fields but that is the extent of its current educational philosophy. The administration assumes that, as students, we will challenge ourselves and take classes outside of our comfort zone. The College assumes that it does not have the responsibility to teach us to view the world critically or how to help us develop our moral standards and beliefs. In order to produce ethical citizens, the College needs to institute requirements focused on developing critical thinking skills. The College needs to institute requirements to provide an intellectual path based on the wisdom and experience of its faculty and staff. Students lack that perspective, simply due to their ages, and so we need assistance from the College in learning what we will later value.

Considering that just a few months prior first-year students were afforded very few breaks from the rigid structure of high school, the College gives us too much liberty when we arrive. Why does the College believe that students, whom the educational system did not trust a few months ago, developed a sense of what they know and ought to know, over the course of a summer? High school may not give us enough responsibility in directing our education, but the College gives us far too much. High school constrains our academic freedom in order to build a foundation of skills for later life. College does not believe it knows how to mold us. The summer after high school I worked at a language school. I hauled printers, keyboards, monitors and other computer-related items around the school’s campus. I set up umbrellas, unpacked textbooks and watched the clock, waiting for 5 p.m. This job taught me how to shirk work and make easy jobs  last a lot longer, skills that will be valuable later in life, but not skills that prepared me for developing an educational plan. All of my friends had similar, mindless jobs. They were camp counselors, receptionists and paper-pushing interns. No one I’ve talked to had a summer experience between high school and college that showed them the limits of their knowledge or gave them the experience necessary to predict what they might need to know later in life.

Students cannot comprehend what knowledge they will need in the future, as they lack experience. The College, however, has existed for 219 years and has well-educated professors, administrators and alumni who have developed a perspective that could enhance our education. The members of the College’s community that have experienced the demands of the real world ought to use that knowledge to prepare us. It is neglectful and foolish to act as if people our age have the knowledge that can only be obtained over long periods of time. Many students demand academic freedom, but that does not mean we deserve it and ought to have it. We cannot know what we will need in the future, so the College needs to mold us into people who are academically and morally prepared for our lives. The College needs to shoulder that task, as we do not know how to prepare ourselves.

Instead of allowing students to take any class they choose when they arrive on campus, the College’s faculty and staff should use their experience to encourage us to develop the logical thinking skills and ethics that all students should have. Instead of vague requirements, the College needs to prepare students for future academic freedom and life in the workplace. In addition to our inability to know beforehand which class experiences we will value in the future, taking those classes would often contradict our current incentives. Students’ incentives are to get as high a GPA as possible while challenging themselves enough to complete a major and be prepared for a job. We do very well in those respects, but meeting those criteria will not help us develop into intellectual and ethical people. By not enforcing stricter requirements, the College is preparing us for jobs, but not for our lives. The closest the College gets to molding students into educated people is the EDI requirement, which is designed to help us become better global citizens. The College knows there is value in developing our morals, but, unfortunately, it is unwilling to push us to further develop these.

The College needs to recognize that it expects its students to accomplish an impossible task – to know that which only experience can teach. A substantial change to the educational requirements is needed; students may not take the classes that have the greatest long-term potential; they often do not know what classes those may be or are worried about taking them. If we all took similar classes on critical thought as freshman, it would be possible to strike up a conversation with anyone on campus by asking them about Kant, Avicenna or whoever would best develop our morals and intellect. The College gives us academic advisors so we can use their experience to help us choose what classes to take. Why not expand that and use the wisdom of the College community to guide us?

 

Benjamin Fischberg ’14 is from Waccabuc, N.Y. He lives in Carter.

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