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What is the value of post-secondary education?

Education has value in itself


James Lewicki | Fulcrum Staff

EDUCATION IS AN end in itself. This was once a widely held belief; however, it has since fallen by the wayside. In common conversation, the topic of education seems to have become either the means toward a desired job or an expectation carried out to not disappoint family. Many of us search for meaning in our lives through faith. These people might conclude that the quest for something more to life than basic survival can be found through regular worship, and I suppose that’s fine if it works for them. But I find my meaning in education. It may be the food I eat, the pills I take, and the sleep I get that keeps me alive, but I know it is my constant search for new ideas, knowledge, and experiences that keeps me living. Something has happened in North American society to make us define ourselves by our jobs. There is surely nothing as important to the average person. Ask yourselves right now, would you rather live the rest of your lives single or jobless? I guarantee that you had trouble deciding, and that is the problem. We value our money too much and our knowledge and pleasure too little. We might stop physically growing in our teens, but we should never let ourselves stop our mental growth. We count the calories and watch what goes into our body. Why shouldn’t we follow that example for our minds? So, I shall end with a plea. Next time you’re watching or laughing at a reality show star, ask yourself if there’s something healthier you could be putting into your mind. And, at the end of the day, if you decide the primary reason you’re at school is to get a job or not to disappoint the family, please drop out. I don’t want you at my school. There are people with better reasons waiting to take your place.

Would you rather be a pig or Socrates?


Patti Tamara Lenard | Fulcrum Contributor

Patti Tamara Lenard is a professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

IS IT BETTER to be a satisfied pig or a dissatisfied Socrates? To play pushpin—apparently a popular game in the 19th century—or to read poetry? These are among the questions that occupied one of the most important political theorists of all time, John Stuart Mill (1806—1873). Students in my second year course in the foundations of political and economic theory know that Mill was a true revolutionary, daring everyone to think for themselves, in a politically, economically, and most significantly, socially closed time. Mill believed that even if it were true that a pig is more easily, and more fully, satisfied than Socrates, it is nevertheless better to be Socrates. His justification—one that I endorse—stems from the value he places on education. Education, he told us, enables us to discern the higher pleasure from the lower pleasure—to prefer poetry over pushpin, opera over Andrew Lloyd Webber, caviar over peanut-butter chocolate ice cream. What is the mechanism of this discernment? How does education enable us to identify the higher status of one pleasure over another, especially when the lower pleasure is in many ways more immediately gratifying? Mill argued that the educated have a breadth of experience that enables good judgment and an understanding of how fleeting or lasting pleasures should be weighed. This experiential education is at the heart of Mill’s defence of politics as a “school of public spirit”—participating in political life is just one way to gather the educative experience valued by Mill. I argue that Mill would say the same about studying at the University of Ottawa, where one can gather the experience to produce good judgment and which justifies calling oneself educated. But education is a never-ending pursuit, and the professor’s job is to both provide the basis students need to pursue it and to encourage them to do so—ideally forever.

Without a career waiting for you, education isn’t worth it


Sarah Doan | Fulcrum Contributor

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL the students out there who made it this far into their education—you’ve proven to the school that you know enough to stay above the water and continue pursuing that dream job you think you have always wanted. But even with the top grades and a stellar list of extracurricular work tucked under your belt, just how far is it all going to get you? As nice as it would be to say that we spent a few years completing a post-secondary educational or professional degree, none of it would have any significance if the knowledge attained wasn’t put to practical use. In fact, knowledge would have little to no use if it stayed somewhere in the corner of our minds collecting dust. There’s a big difference between knowing something and knowing what to do with it. Being able to apply all the knowledge we invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars into is only worth the effort if we can get a job. There are many employment opportunities out there that are offered specifically to graduates with certain degrees, but there are so many more employers that demand experience over all else. Optional co-operative education programs provided by universities are a good means of getting that much-needed experience, but many students seem content to simply study now and worry about work later. Without work experience your education means nothing to a future employer because there’s nothing that separates you from the thousands of others with identical degrees. In the end, a post-secondary education isn’t worth all the trouble unless there’s a guarantee that the career we want to pursue is really what we want in the long run. Students should at least take some time to get an idea of what they want to do first before applying for a spot in a program they may potentially regret investing so much time and money on.

Education shouldn’t be prioritized over intelligence


Justin Dalliare | Fulcrum Staff

BY TODAY’S STANDARDS, you’re an educated person once you’ve gained a highly specific and specialized set of skills, formally acknowledged in a diploma. Forget knowing the dates of the Korean War, understanding the effects of rising interest rates, or being able to recite capital cities across the globe. These tidbits of knowledge are of little importance to modern students because they are of little importance to employers. Due to the enormous pressure placed on us to find jobs right out of school, more people are going to university than ever before and programs are becoming increasingly specialized. In addition, many programs—which were once the staples of academia—have become undervalued because they fail to provide students with specific, applicable skills. This new way of perceiving education has had toxic effects on society. We’ve forgotten that university is more than a ticket to a better and wealthier life, and that knowledge, in its general sense, has intrinsic value. What’s more, we’ve forgotten that being an educated person doesn’t automatically make you an intelligent one. General, seemingly “useless” knowledge remains important because it makes us better citizens; it helps us understand where we’ve come from and where we’re going as a society; it enables us to make responsible decisions; and it helps us dominate at Trivial Pursuit. That said, university should remain a place that challenges us intellectually in endless ways, not one whose role is to simply advance our careers. It should stimulate our desire to learn, rather than hinder it. And above all, it should be a place we go to become intelligent, well-rounded human beings—not just educated ones.

University isn’t an obligation


Nadia Drissi El-Bouzaidi | Fulcrum Contributor

POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION has become a social obligation. From the minute we enter high school we are encouraged to set our sights on the most prestigious university possible. But many are unprepared when they actually get here because they have been so focused on getting in to satisfy external pressures that they are clueless about the actual work expected by the university. The pre-university frenzy is still fresh in our minds—the constant queries from friends and teachers, the pressure from parents, and the push to somehow raise yourself above the thousands of other students trying to put their foot in the same door. We are so concerned with just getting into university that we are going into it unprepared. According to Statistics Canada, 15 per cent of Canadian students will drop out of post-secondary institutions. The University of Ottawa had a 20 per cent dropout rate in 2011, including above average dropout rates in math, science, and engineering. Clearly, some of us need to re-examine our reasons for coming here before we commit our time and money. Our focus on excelling at school blinds us to the fact that employers prefer experience over a slew of degrees. Only half of Canadian university students will have a co-op or internship experience by the time they finish their degrees. Many will move back home after graduation, unsure of where to go next, but accompanied by a mountain of debt. According to the Canadian Federation of Students, the average Canadian university student will acquire $37,000 in debt. This situation becomes worse if you consider the number of students who don’t have a parent’s couch to go back to. Despite all this, university remains the best way to lift yourself out of poverty, earn a liveable wage and learn a multitude of life lessons. However, it’s not necessarily for you or me. Before you pay your tuition fees again, research your options thoroughly, meditate in a quiet place, separate hype from reality, and understand why you are making your educational decisions.