As students, we’re taught to ask questions. The questions we’re probably not taught to ask, however, are usually the one’s we ask the most.
Oftentimes, we don’t say the questions to the people who need to hear them; rather, we ask each other as a way to complain about the “mundane” assignments educational institutions hand out. “Why do we have to do this?” “What’s the point?” “Am I ever going to use this in everyday life?”
Louis Menand, a professor and writer, was one of the “lucky few” who had the chance to be directly asked one of these questions. Louis Menand heard: “Why did we have to buy this book?”
Instead of ignoring the question, though, Menand decided to answer it. In fact, Menand wrote an entire article about it in the New Yorker. His piece, entitled “Live and Learn: Why We Have College,” discussed the reasons we have college, how well college is preparing us, and whether it’s even necessary.
In his essay, Menand breaks down the reasons people attend a higher educational institution into two main theories. The first focuses on the belief that college is part of society in order to sort through students and determine who will rise to the top. The second instead focuses on the educational richness that can be obtained through the study of college’s multiple platforms.
While Menand’s use of “you” was something I believed was too casual for such a serious article, I found his discussion of the theories to be interesting. He eventually brings a third theory in, but I personally agree with the second theory the most.
Menand writes that, “Education is about personal and intellectual growth, not about winning some race to the top.” This quote is specifically intriguing because I think our society emphasizes being the very best at everything. With standardized tests and class rankings, the pressure to be at the top is something students face on a day-to-day basis. Yet over the past years, schools across the country are starting to get rid of class rank. A growing number of universities are also starting to accept students who don’t provide an SAT or ACT score.
The reason that I agree with this theory is because education has always been something I’ve chosen to do, to pursue. Sure, it may be true that up until a certain age everyone living in the United States is required to attend school. But Menand’s essay focuses on college, something that is definitely optional and therefore, something that one must choose to do.
You may be thinking that everything I just said was pretty much common sense, but I believe it holds more weight than one would think. While there may be some people out there who attend college based merely on the fact that they believe it’s the only way to succeed in life, others attend because they want to quench their thirst for knowledge.
Part of Menand’s essay discusses the argument that a lot of college coursework are classes unrelated to a given person’s major.
He clarifies this when he says, “Why should you have to pass a collegelevel literature class if you want to be a state trooper? To show that you can tough it out with Henry James?”
I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t wondered this myself. There have been numerous times where I’ve sat in chemistry or calculus and wondered why on earth any of that would help me become a better journalist. But not once did I ever stop taking courses that challenged me and expanded my knowledge.
This article only reinforced my belief that college is a place to really identify who you are as a person and work towards a degree that’s in a field you love. Regardless of whether you have taken a class that doesn’t pertain directly toward your major, there’s always room for knowledge. There really is no price to an education.