Firstly, it’s important to point out that I’m not trying to argue that furthering your education is not important, or a good choice. I’m only trying to point out the flaws in how education is viewed.
More and more, there is a growing disdain for those who go uneducated or undereducated in the public eye. This internalized/unacknowledged discrimination is stirring up some problems bigger than ever before. However, the overvaluing of thoroughgoing education is nothing new. Education began (and still is in many ways) as something accessible only for the wealthy or influential. Systematic oppression of women, people of colour, and those who were not a part of the upper-class is what our education system was structured upon. Fortunately, much (but never all) of this elitism has been eradicated. So, wherein lies the problem? Unfortunately, the weight that society places on higher education has created corruption on both the large and small scale. The solution to these problems is only to look at education through a different perspective.
In exaggerating the importance of a university level education, it negatively impacts both students and prospective students in a considerable way… beginning in secondary school. All throughout public education, students are subject to repetitious lecture that implies that your education is synonymous with your intelligence and thus determines your value as a person. Now, who’s to say that education does not contribute to a person’s intelligence? Nobody. However, intelligence is not developed by memorizing Woodrow Wilson’s “14 Points” or the quadratic formula, or even by gaining a thorough understanding of the symbolism of Atticus Finch’s character in To Kill a Mockingbird. A student doesn’t even become intelligent by white knuckling it through an essay at 3am due the next morning. Intelligence cannot be measured by the ability to memorize dizzying facts and it cannot be measured by the amount of stress a person can handle. These are unfortunately the things that a student’s grades are based upon. What does build intelligence is purely on an individual basis, something the education system either fails to or chooses not to recognize. To say that public education is useless would be a lie so far out that Pinocchio’s nose would extend longer than the Great Wall of China. Sadly, though, these days its flaws seem to greatly outweigh its benefits, at least quantitatively. The poorly designed grading scale revolving heavily around testing and homework, has managed to discourage students of great intelligence to achieve higher, thus impacting which students go on to pursue higher education. This creates an arrangement of elitism within higher education. Only those with very specific skills are seen as worthy of being educated further, greatly impacting levels of diversity within schools. The system is also centered around getting a job, but in turn marginalizes other important and employable skills. By placing value on a person’s ability to handle stress and memorize information otherwise irrelevant, it leaves communication skills, compassion, honesty, reliability, and a number of other valuable qualities undeveloped and ignored.
Also, it’s important to remember that students today are under levels of stress otherwise unimaginable to previous generations. As stress levels increase both in the home and in school, a study in The Lancet finds that 1 in 12 young adults self-harm. Today, over 2.3 million teenagers are depressed and it is assumed that 1 out of every 5 people will have experienced depression by the time they are 25. The suicides of approximately 14 people aged 15-25 occur daily. If that’s not horrifying enough: for everyone in this age group that succeeds in their suicides, there are over 100 more attempts. Suicide rates in young adults have tripled in the last 30 years. 40% of public schools continue to ignore this problem, leaving the topic of suicide, mental health, stress management, and other common but horrific issues untouched. The average student has 3 hours of homework a night, and a full AP student has an average of 1.5 hours of homework per class. To top it all off, universities expect that students are not only completing their homework, but studying for tests, engaging in extracurricular activities, playing a varsity sport, learning a language, playing a role in their community, that they are already aware of their life-aspirations, and that they have a passion for something. Because a higher education is so “important” to employers, family members, and society as a whole, it’s no wonder that those thousands of students who see this lifestyle as unmanageable come to a conclusion that there is no other way out than suicide. It’s no wonder that millions of teens and young adults are being diagnosed with depression and other mental health disorders every year.
Finally, one must acknowledge the accessibility myth. People coming from lower-class families are discriminated against immensely, especially within the world of university education. For example, someone coming from an upper class family may be able to afford to be sent to a nice and private university, with a 3.0 GPA. A student, perhaps with an even larger drive to learn than the aforementioned student could have exited high school from a lower-class family with a 3.2 GPA with the news that he or she is ineligible for big scholarship money, and unable to accept student loans (knowing they’d be impossible to pay off). Yet, we still live in a world where it’s perfectly acceptable to applaud that 3.0 student for his or her massive achievements and shame the 3.2 student for having not had worked harder for scholarships. This overdramatic appreciation for a university degree has reinforced the system of oppression regarding those belonging to low and lower middle-class families. Education is not available to everybody until a person’s options to be educated are not so costly. University education is a just another subdivision under the umbrella of elitism.
The promotion of a world where only those with a university level education are seen as worth employing, worth listening to, or worth anything at all has created mass destruction. While it is always worth advancing skills and understanding in a field of passion, it is also crucial to remember those who chose not to and were not able to do so. It is important to remember that the system that works well for some is harmful and sometimes fatal to others. It is necessary to understand that in today’s society, nobody is equal, not even in education. If anything at all, always at least remember that education does not define a person’s intelligence, and it most certainly does not define their value.