Choice in Education

Being a university student myself, I still often wonder about alternative education, about enabling creativity in individuals and allowing them to forge their own path.  For so much of my school life half of what I was learning I knew I would never pursue, so many wasted days on subjects I didn’t even like but I had to get a good grade in so I could go to a good university where, again, there would be subjects I had to study that I didn’t want to pursue, such as the mandatory humanities electives.

The defense for students learning things they don’t want to is to supposedly create “well-balanced people with a wide range of skills.”  When you peel back the surface, however, you easily become insulted.  Why would the education system assume that I am uncultured, that I don’t already enjoy literature and a few small studies of history in my spare time?  Why do they think I should be forced to?  I actually do quite a bit of research about humanitarian causes, philosophy, and bioethics on my own time and someday I do plan to write my own essays on these subjects, where I won’t have to be restricted to 1500 words plus or minus 50, thank you very much.  I also play piano, another pursuit that I didn’t take much formal education in.

Teachers and educational curriculum drafters may protest, “Ah, that may be the case with you, but there are some uncultured folks out there who don’t pursue these things in their spare time.”  To that I say: so what?  You would rather them get 50s and 60s in a subject because they don’t like it and pull down their overall average instead of allowing them to just take courses that they like and are actually good in?  You can’t force “culture” on people; it is offensive and elitist.  And maybe – gasp – these “uncultured” folks may do a lot more good for the people that you talk about in social science classes by donating and volunteering rather than writing essays about their plight.

I am musing on this, of course, because I myself have been struggling with writing an essay for my history elective in the past few days when I would much rather prefer playing with imaginary numbers in a corner with my whiteboard.  It’s an essay on a book about the development of property rights in imperial British colonies and the United States.  It was interesting learning about the land rush, about how settlers, defiant against the state, raced to claim land for themselves.  That is, it was interesting for all of the first 20 pages until it droned on about crown grants, loan farms, allodial tenure, blah blah blah…and yet, this course counts for part of my GPA.   I know, I know, maybe I should have researched the electives more when I was deciding on them, but, to be honest, history, arts, the humanities – they will always be boring to me if I’m getting graded on how well I learn them, no matter how articulate and eloquent the professor.  Just saying.


2 thoughts on “Choice in Education

  1. Well said, Ada. I am all about student driven learning, unschooling, education outside the context of institution. We try to put people in boxes and stuff them all with the same information. The problem is kids, people, are not like computers we can program.

    I heard a funny joke the other day that kind of applies.

    This guy, down on his luck,couldn’t read or write, tried to get a job as a janitor at the Baptist church. He almost had it but they found out he couldn’t read and let him go. So depressed, hungry, he passes a fruit stand and spends his last 50 cents on an apple. As he’s walking along holding the apple up in the air and admiring it, someone comes along and asks of they can buy it for a dollar. So he sells his apple and goes back to buy two more. Once again he’s walking along, holding his apples up and admiring them,when some one asks if they can buy them. Soon he has enough money to buy a whole case of apples and before you know it he’s on a corner with an apple stand of his own. Eventually he makes so much money, he goes to a bank to open an account. The teller hands him a form and he explains he never learned how to read and write. So she fills it out for him and says, “Wow, I can’t believe you made so much money! I wonder how far you would have gotten in life if you could read and write? I wonder where you’d be today if only you had learned to read?”

    “I know exactly where I’d be,” he says. “I’d be the janitor over at the Baptist church.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ha! Nice story; I enjoyed that. Although it is baffling why a janitor would need to know how to read and write. In the summer I worked as a housekeeper at a hotel and most of the other cleaning personnel had limited education and even limited knowledge of English. Nevertheless, the ladies I worked alongside were very speedy at cleaning rooms and at least knew how to knock and say, “Housekeeping!” A room that took me 45 minutes to clean would take them 20, and believe me they were still very thorough. To them, I was less intelligent in the art of making beds, despite my English high school education. 😉 So, everyone has their own special skills, and you’re right, we can’t fit people in boxes; we actually take away from their potential when we do that, taking away time that they could use to flex their unique skills. Think how great job opportunities would be if people were permitted more specialization in their education.


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