Opinion

The road(s) not taken

How much is your Boston University education worth? I don’t mean money-wise, as in ‘how much does it cost’ or ‘how much will you make when/if you get a job,’ because Lord knows the numerical value of our economy operates in a trumped-up array of imaginary numbers. But rather: What are you getting out of your BU education?
I suppose to properly deal with this hypothetical question, you’d also need to ask ‘who’ achieves this erudition, ‘how’ they acquire it, and, more importantly, ‘why’ are they going for it. Are we in school to learn a vocation, or to gain a greater theory of enlightenment?
If it’s for business purposes, for occupations and professions, then the university’s role is to mold students to fit the pre-existing conditions of the world environment. We are to be formed into the great structure, like so many cogs in the machine (albeit well-crafted cogs that help move the work along). Still, we’re being designed to fit into the past model.
But, in our current era, we’re on the verge of a new revolution, in terms of economy, ecology, ethics, communication, community and virtually everything else local and global. It will be the role of our generation to be innovative and push forward into, forgive me, the 21st century. But if our vocations promote the past apparatus, shouldn’t we also be developing the abilities to adapt to a changing world? Won’t a multitude of diversified skills allow us to stay creative and competitive in changing times?
Quite frankly, sustainability is not America’s strong suit.
I am compelled to point out that a liberal arts education has been the model since Socrates, approximately 2,500 years ago. And even though that image may be filled with a posthumous whiteness of marble (like a dead statue), compare it to our modern concept of economics, an education founded by Adam Smith in 1776 ‘-‘- a mere 232 years ago. Which one has lasted? Yet, with the death of the University Professors Program, which is being promoted these days at BU?
Maybe we can turn the question to ‘What does BU hope to gain from its students?’ More and more the answer is ‘increased tuition’ and ‘corporate contracts’ (business is business, all praise almighty Ford). The principle of mass production has been applied to our education. We seem to be like the children of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, standardized men and women in uniform batches with defined social tasks. And at a place like BU, stream-lined uniformity is easy to achieve with its corporate-sponsored, captive audience (read: students clad in scarlet and accessorized with Starbucks cups).
Getting back to the point ‘-‘- what are we getting out of our education? And what are we becoming, for ourselves and our future? Does BU provide the critical skills necessary for independent thought and adaptability based on a variety of concepts and ideas? Are we teaching our students to think? Or just recite? To plan for themselves? To choose?
As a UNI student, this was my luxury ‘-‘- I was free to dabble, and ultimately choose for myself. When I look at the ‘CAS Major Choices Week: Planning your future in CAS and beyond’hellip;’ handout, I see a figure standing at a cross-roads scratching his head wondering which path he will take. And I think, well, why can’t he just sort of blur his eyes a little bit and forge a path that goes between, among and through all these roads? Given he’s got an interest and initiative, how come he can’t design a greater composite of all three?
The reason is because CAS doesn’t allow it. Interdisciplinary study was only what UNI embodied. And now that ship is sinking. When I see how few mailboxes there are in the UNI student lounge this year, I can’t help think of P.D. James’ Children of Men. This interdisciplinary ideal is being wiped out by slow attrition, all for the sake of bureaucracy. I like to compare UNI students to Jell-O in the cogs of the machine ‘-‘- we glob on the apparatus, flow in the cracks, help lubricate the work, but leave a sticky residue, which some people sitting on the ninth floor of Silber Way may not like.
I’ll conclude with a quote from Lazarus Long, a character written by science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988):
‘A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.’

One Comment

  1. UNI lives!!!