In response to “I will never need to use X in real life”
Six years ago today, as a high school sophomore thinking about skipping college, I wrote a short essay on my feelings about the education system in this country. In two weeks I will have graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology with a degree in Information Technology and Management. I’d like to reflect on how my thoughts on the subject have evolved over the years since I wrote this.
First, some context: At the time I was becoming quite engrossed in programming and was about to embark on my first software development internship at a startup. I felt like most of what I was learning in school wouldn’t serve me a purpose once I started working. For a while I thought about just going straight from high school into a career, but by senior year I decided to give college a chance.
Today, I work as a software engineer at Packback, where we are building a discussion platform for college classes with the purpose of awakening the fearless, relentless curiosity inside every student. One of our goals for the platform is to have students see how what they are learning in class can apply to the real world. As a student, I think I would find it to help address the main concern I had at the time with general education courses.
However, I still agree with many of the other points made in the essay, particularly around the cost of education and curriculum differences. Student loans have become a huge problem and with CPS and Illinois public universities struggling to get by, the financial aspect will remain a huge challenge.
All that being said, I wouldn’t be where I am today without formal education. It’s taught be to be…
- a better communicator (via writing, speaking, etc.),
- better leader (via classes such as IPRO and countless group projects),
- made me think critically and become more well-rounded (thru many humanities classes),
- more curious (from science and social science classes),
- and a better problem solver (from math and CS classes).
I don’t remember the specific facts and figures, and only remember a few of the concepts, but the skills I’ve had to hone through my classes is what I’ve taken (so far) from secondary and post-secondary education. Now if only 15-year-old Eric could trust 21-year-old Eric on that.
The original essay, unedited and dated May 1, 2011 (according to Facebook)
I WILL NEVER NEED TO USE ____ IN REAL LIFE #
During the half-hour in my room, I thought about how huge Chicago is [compared to other cities I’ve been to]. I have a map of Chicago in my room, so I thought about what it would be like to travel to all the different neighborhoods and people there. I would imagine it to be quite diverse, but I am skeptical that all of these people are as educated as us Northsiders. Then I asked myself: what is the cause of all of this? The cause is obvious: a lack of quality education.
Why does the south side have far more low-quality schools and people without decent jobs than the north side [of Chicago]? The answer lies in how the education system is set up in the U.S. In Europe, there is a national education plan, while here in the U.S. the curriculum is determined at a local or state level. Therefore, some kid in California could have far more knowledge by 9th grade than a kid in Alabama [for example]. But, as this is a problem about education in general, reforms should not stop there.
Not only must elementary-school level education must be reformed, higher education must be reformed as well. With higher education, the problem lies less in the actual education, and more in how to get the education. As many people have trouble affording college, the financial aid system should be reformed. The system should not be based off of money, but instead dedication to education. The person with the most passion should be the one to get the education, not the richest person.
Higher education has turned into an economic enterprise much more than an educational one. This can be seen in the college advertising, and the fake “online colleges” where you can buy a degree for a couple thousand bucks. And that’s just the start of it. There are also problems within the actual colleges that students can speak fluently about. One of them is that students are being forced to take courses that are completely irrelevant to their degrees. I can see that it is good to get a “general knowledge” of topics, but at the college level with the money being spent, over a thousand dollars per course, a line needs to be drawn. Building off of that, if they do take the course then they would probably forget most of the information they have learned because (a) it is not relevant to their degree, and (b) they have no motivation to retain the material. Higher education is the step directly before entering the workforce, so it is vitally important that this is reformed.
The U.S. is losing thousands of jobs to China and other countries every day. Companies are losing faith in American workers, as seen by job outsourcing and other measures they have taken. Tax cuts and bonuses for companies are only temporary measures to restore the economy; a permanent fix must start at the root of the problem. If we cannot get education right, then trying to fix everything else after that is useless. I am tired of learning useless information [that will not help me in my future job], only to forget it a year later. I leave you with a remark from an article written by an anonymous author (see below):
“So what if a lot of students get ground up in the rusty cogs of the antiquated bureaucratic process? That’s life.”
But it’s really only life if we sit by idly and continue to be told that it is.
Inspired by this article/rant [by an anonymous author] I found while browsing pastebin.com: http://pastebin.com/1erQ39uv