Monday, October 22, 2007

Insular Academic Post on the Importance of Education

This post is complety irrelevant to those outside of academia (well, I could make an argument on how it's relevant, but you know), so unless you're an academic or really bored, this would be a good time to wander over to ebay and start bidding on velour jumpsuits. They're comfortable and stylish, and unlike this post, are appropriate for all occasions.

With that out of the way, we had a long and interesting discussion in my Sociology of Higher Educaiton class today about reading loads for undergraduate students. Some argued that in light of the many demands on today's undergraduate students, most notably the many hours they must work to afford higher education, we should keep readings light, some arguing for no more than 20 pages of reading a week. The argument goes that students are too busy to read anyway, so we may as well keep the readings short and really delve into them.

And there's definately something to be said for such arguments. After all, students are working more than ever (most of our Soc undergrads work an average of 20 hours a week) and it's always a challenge to balance breadth and depth.

When I noted that the actual problem is a capitalist system that doesn't value or fund education, everyone agreed, but the arguments didn't change. And while I'm always one to advocate for student needs, I find it extremely problematic that the solution is to de-value education even further.

The vast majority of students would never think of asking their employer to cut back on their hours of work because it is interfering with school. And they would certainly never ask for the same amount of pay for these reduced hours (though they really should). However, this is exactly what they're asking of us. They want the same degree and all of its inherent benefits, but with only a fraction of the work that was once expected.

The counter-argument that I can already hear is that they need the work to pay their bills and afford school. True, but if they completely sacrifice their education to pay for it, what purpose did it serve in the first place? Is their job washing dishes truly more important than their education?

Saying that we should reduce course workloads to accomidate students higher pay workloads simply serves to reinforce the idea that education is secondary to capitalist accumulation. The purpose of a college education is to learn, not to wash dishes, and not even to earn a piece of paper that allows you to get a better job upon completion. But instead of crititcally examining such issues, we instead wring our hands about how we can best stay out of the way of the neo-liberal pressures that our destroying our universities.

Of course, we could instead be debating how to best pressure administrators to cut tution, or how to convince elected officials to fully fund public education, or even more effectivley, how to end the capitalist economic relations that cause these tensions in the first place, but that's the kind of critical thinking we don't particularly care to encourage in higher education.

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