Synthesis Essay: Why go to college

6 June 2016

Why Go To College?
Why go to college? Why would someone spend thousands of dollars to sit in yet another classroom? My uncle says “people that get a degree make over a million dollars more in a lifetime.” My dad counters that with “the world needs ditch diggers too.” I came to college to start my life, to become an independent man who finds his niche among society. I suppose some people can do that outside of school but I find college to be an optimum transition to the adult life as it teaches practical skills, instills a greater appreciation of the world, and makes one discontent with inequities in the community.

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Although Lucius Seneca denies that a liberal education prepares anyone for life, college develops necessary skills to transition into adulthood. Seneca wrote “On Liberal and Vocational Studies” saying “Or let us take a look a music or geometry; you will not find anything in them which tells us not to be afraid of this or desire that- and if anyone lacks this kind of knowledge all his other knowledge is valueless to him.”(Seneca, 17) Seneca says that geometry, music, or poetry will not teach you what to avoid or what to desire, or essentially how to live. Although a college education might not teach you what you should desire, it teaches you what you DO desire.

Taking these sorts of classes can change what you believe or desire. One may take a required math course and come to hate math, only using it to budget for the grocery store or tip a good waiter. Another person may take the same course and decide they want to become a mathematician. Either way, the math class was worth taking simply to discover one’s true interest in the subject. Perhaps in Seneca’s day, it was easy to take up a career without much education, but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among those who hold only a high-school diploma is more than double the rate of college graduates, and for those without a diploma the rate is tripled. With a lack of steady income raising a family is more difficult, buying a house becomes less practical, and for some, even food becomes scarce. Besides earning a degree, college teaches practical daily necessities like time management and social interaction. Time management can refer to a few things. It involves balancing class, work, and study schedules to fit into a single day.

For example, if a student has class from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and must work from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m., the student must plan quite well in order to find enough time adequately study for their classes. It also refers to how one categorizes their priorities or in other words, one finds out what is important to them. I quickly learned that partying over studying only leads to a next morning headache accompanied with regret, causing the exam to be overly difficult. The ability to Interact socially is vital in life and its application is prevalent in college. Most schools require students to take some sort of public speaking course where students have to give a speech or presentation both of which are common across many career fields. Even besides this, students learn how to interact with their peers, respond to criticism, and approach those in authority. A simple example of this is peer review in a writing class where students read and critique eachothers writing. Although these are all basic skills, college provides an environment that allows students to cultivate and understand the importance of these skills.

Not only does college teach practical skills, it also gives one a greater appreciation of the world around them. John Henry Newman, a partial founder of the Catholic University of Ireland, stated that there is a distinction between a useful education and a liberal education. He wrote on liberal education in “Knowledge Its Own End”, claiming knowledge was an end in itself. Newman said “Now, when I say that Knowledge is, not merely a means to something beyond it, or the preliminary of certain arts into which it naturally resolves, but an end sufficient to rest and and to pursue for its own sake…for I am stating what is both intelligable in itself, and had ever been the common judgement of philosophers and the ordinary feeling of mankind.” (Newman,54) Newman further supports his view by saying “Liberal education, viewed in itself, is simply the cultivation of the intellect, as such, and its object is nothing more or less than intellectual excellence.”(Newman, 58)

This view of knowledge gives such things as literature, art, and philosophy great value in that they further develop ones intellect, which is rewarding because it provokes thought. Essentially, someone may never reference “To Kill a Mockingbird” in their daily lives, but the exercising of the mind that occurs by reading the book is rewarding enough. Likewise, carefully viewing “Mona Lisa” is beneficial just because of the thought that is involved with viewing the piece. Marcus Cicero, Roman Orator and Statesman, said “This pertains most of all to human nature for we are all of us drawn to the pursuit if Knowledge; in which to excel we consider excellent, wheras to make a mistake, to err, to be ignorant, to be decieved, is both an evil and a disgrace.”(Cicero, De Officiis) Cicero points out that it is in human nature to pursue knowledge. We as human beings naturally want to know things. He shows how often, we don’t have a use for the knowledge of things besides just wanting to know. For example, knowing why the sky is blue is not going to affect someones daily life.

The knowledge of the blue sky has no use beyond itself however that does not stop us from asking the question “why is the sky blue?” Even beyond this, Newman sees acquiring knowledge as pleasurable. He qualifies this quality of liberal knowledge comparing it to a garden, telling how people keep flower gardens simply because they are beautiful though their beauty leads to nothing beyond itself. Mary Wollstonecraft, an 18th century woman’s rights activist, would agree. In Wollstonecraft’s “On National Education”, she writes about why women should be educated. She discusses that because women are uneducated, they cannot appreciate the same things as an educated person can. She writes “With what a languid yawn have I seen an admirable poem thrown down, that a man of true taste returns to, again and again with rapture; and whilst melody has almost suspended respiration, a lady has asked me where I bought my gown.”(Wollstonecraft, 37) Wollstonecraft says that an educated man will continue to read a good poem over an over, while those left uneducated discuss seemingly shallow things as the location of a store where a nice dress was bought. Being Educated gives one the ability to see the aesthetic quality in things.

She claims that is why “I have seen also an eye glaced coldly over a most exquisite picture, rest, sparkling with pleasure, on a caricature rudely sketched.”(Wollstonecraft, 37) This would be like an uneducated person giving no attention to one of Vincent Van Gough’s finest work but would rather see a humorous drawing of an ugly couple at the county fair. Wollstonecraft believes that education is the way to open ones eyes to the aesthetic quality of the world and that to expect the uneducated to see this beauty without access to education is hopeless.

While a liberal education does lead one to better apprciate the world, it also makes one discontent with the injustices present in their world. Frederick Douglass, who grew up as slave but would later become one of the most influential African-Americans in U.S. history, describes this precisely in “Learning To Read.” Douglass describes how he learned to read partially by the help of his masters mistress who taught him the alphabet and partially by the help of white kids on the street who helped him form those letters into words and sentences. Around age twelve he got ahold of a book called “The Colombian Orator.” Douglass describes how in one story, a slave was able to change his masters mind about slavery, and was consequentially set free. In the same book he read a speech by Irish activist Richard Sheridan from which he got “a bold denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication of human rights.”(Douglass, 48) This speech opened douglass’s eyes to the injustice of slavery.

He said “The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light that a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery.”(Douglass, 49) By reading this speech, Douglass realized the injustice that is slavery and that he was not the only one that knew this. Douglass later said “As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! That very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish.”(Douglass,49) Douglass was no longer satisfied with a life of bondage nor was he okay with others being left in ignorance. Similarly, Azar Nafisi found that her education made her dissatisfied with situation. Nafisi was raised in Tehran, Iran but educated in the U.S. and England. After her schooling, she returned to Iran to teach english literature. Upon returning, strict islamic religious codes had been placed in society, the harshest restrictions put on women. Women could not shake hands with a collegue, kiss their husband publically, paint their finger nails or even laugh in university hallways.

Due to such harsh regulations, she resigned from teaching, and instead taught a smaller, underground literature class in her own home consisting of only women. They read “Invitation to a Beheading” by Vladimir Nabokov in which a man Cincinnatus C. lives in a totalitarian society, or in Nafisi’s words “an atmosphere of perpertual dread”(Nafisi, 496), and he becomes the hero because he refuses to become like all the rest of the oppressed people in his society. In this book, there is a dance scene where Cincinnatus dances with his jailer and after returning to his jail cell regrets “that the swoons friendly embrace had been so brief.”(Nafisi, 501) Nafisi analyzes this scene saying that “As long as he accepts the sham world the jailers impose on him, Cincinnatus will remain their prisoner and will move within the circles of their creation.”(Nafisi, 501) Nafisi and her class realize they are in the same predicament and that “The only way to leave the circle, to stop dancing with the jailer, is to find a way to preserve one’s individuality, that unique quality which evades description but differentiates one human being from the other.”(Nafisi, 502) Through this literature, these young islamic girls find that individuality is the way to break the oppressive Iranian system. The story of Cincinnatus proved to these girls that painting their fingernails or showing a tuft of hair was a way to break the harsh system that was their reality. It showed them that by wearing all of their required black attire, hiding their favorite jewlery, and getting married early was buying into a system that was oppressed them.

Mario Vargas Llosa, the author of “Why Literature” also finds literature to be a great aspect of education that can make one discontent. Llosa discusses that reading literature lets the reader into another life. He says “[…]to sail the seas on the back of a whale with Captain Ahab, to drink arsenic with Emma Bovary, to become an insect with Gregor Samsa: these are all ways that we have invented to divest ourselves of the wrongs and the impositions of this unjust life, a life that forces us always to be the same person when we wish to be many different people.”( Llosa, paragraph 21) After experiencing the “other life”, one rejoins reality making one discontent with all of the short-comings of the real world. Llosa states “How could we not feel cheated after reading War and Peace or Remembrance of Things Past and returning to our world of insignificant details, of boundaries and prohibitions that lie in wait everywhere and, with each step, corrupt our illusions?”(Llosa, paragraph 23)

The creation of a gap between the literary world and reality exposes great differences and faults in our own society. Llosa says literature reminds us “that the world is badly made; and that those who pretend to the contrary, the powerful and the lucky, are lying; and that the world can be improved, and made more like the worlds that our imagination and our language are able to create.”(Llosa, paragraph 23) Llosa explains how comparing real life to the life one lives while reading a book shows that our reality is more limited, less perfect, and less beautiful in comparison to the literary world. For example, for the inner-city high-schooler with a broken family and a drug addicted mother, the world within “The Great Gatsby” might be one they would much rather be apart of. Perhaps he enjoys going to one of Gatsby’s infamous parties rather than hearing his mom scream in his ear. It is this aspect of education that leads one to become discontent and motivated to change their situation.

A college education encompasses this aspect, among many others, which makes one dissatisfied with injustice in the world. Classes give students the knowledge to identify and work against injustice. For example, taking a sociology course can help one better point out racism. For example,a while back I was in the airport. As I waited patiently behind the 50 other people that were also being herded through airport security, I noticed a man get pulled aside and searched individually. He had no obvious reason to be searched and he had followed all of security protocol up to this point so why was he being searched? I then noticed that he was the other Arab-looking man in line and I immediately spotted the racial profiling that had just occurred. If I didn’t have this knowledge of racial profiling and racial stereotypes, I probably wouldn’t have noticed any injustice at all. However my education allowed me to recognize the injustice that had just occurred and it made me upset to think someone was searched purely off of what they looked like, and even more upset to know that it happens all the time.

So really, why should you go to college? Is it the million dollars over a lifetime that pushes someone to go? Or maybe they decide that they don’t want to dig ditches for the rest of their life. Maybe everyone goes to college just because they need that degree that tells them they are worth something. Whether it is to make more money, find yourself, or change the world, a liberal college education gives students endless opportunity to change their reality. Maybe college isn’t for everyone, or maybe some people just like using books more than shovels.

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