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Author, John Rindy, MPH

Choose a college and a program that allows and encourages reflection upon what has been learned. Only then are you in college to get an education and not just a degree.

Sounds touchy-feely but I am serious.  When you sit down in that job interview someday, they are going to ask you questions like “Give an example of where you worked as part of a team, but failed.  Then tell me what you learned from that experience.”  So, if you had never actually sat down and thought about the answer to this question before showing up for this interview, you might have a very hard time articulating a convincing answer.  College is about education, knowing what you know.  It is not about the degree.

The title of this article comes from a conversation I once had with a professor friend.  We were talking about whether or not students were actually learning in elementary school, high school and college.  He reflected upon how he tried to deliberately diversify his teaching, adding content that would appeal to those who like to:

  • Read in order to learn
  • Listen in order to learn
  • Watch something in order to learn
  • Get up and do something in order to learn

He went as far as to make his courses different each semester, to try to appeal to the different learning styles in his class and yet, as he recalled “I would teach section 1 of a course and then, teach section 2 the next semester.  The first day of the second semester I would ask the students “Now what were the four pillars of communication that we discussed last semester?” and there they would sit, staring at me blindly like I was speaking a foreign language.  Here I had been congratulating myself on the great job I had done teaching and it turned out that they had not learned a darn thing; even the ones who earned an A in the first section of the course series”  Not long after sharing that account he lamented, “If only students understood that they could be getting an education while they are getting their degree.”  Wow!  Anyone who reads my blog knows that this was a profound and powerful statement to me and I have reflected upon it ever since.

I have read many articles that attempt to blame colleges for “not teaching kids to think.”  Bull! This lapse happened long before those kids ever became young adults and enrolled in college.  With the onset of the standardized test, more and more to their chagrin, our frustrated and very capable elementary school, middle school and high school teachers are charged with teaching to the test – offering enough factoids to generate high scores on standardized tests, to give the impression that the kids in their educational care are learning something, in the states’ definition of learning that is.  Here’s news.  It is all a lie.  It is what I refer to as academic bulemia.  What is academic bulemia? Well, you cram a load of unconnected facts into someone’s head so that they can regurgiutate them later on a high stakes, multiple choice exam and then forget any of it ever happened.  Voila! Academic bulemia.

Lest I be labeled as a flaming liberal, pro-teacher’s union thug, as I have mentioned previously, I am actually pretty conservative.  Now when it comes to education, yes, I tend to think more liberally.  Not everyone learns the same way.  This is a studied and proven fact.  So to teach everyone in the same way and then measure everyone in the same way is ludicrous and counterintuitive.

So yes, I am cutting my professor friend a huge break here.  It is absolutely not his fault that a good number of college students think that they are in college to get a degree.  This problem can be even more prominent among students who are first-generation college-going learners because among this population there is a greater propensity to equate “college degree” with “job”.  That is, if I get a college degree, I get a job.  Well this is simply not the truth anymore.  While possessing a college degree may allow a person to apply for thousands of more jobs than they could have without a degree, there is simply no guarantee of securing job based simply upon possessing a college degree.  To the contrary if you are educated, whether in trade school, in a college, by a great parent or mentor, by your church or by life in general, this is the thing that will actually improve a person’s chance of getting a job, and in fact a good job.

Last point. Creating the untruth.  Now, I have not actually heard anyone say to a youngster, “If you get that degree, you will get a job.”  But our entire elementary and secondary education system is designed around summative waypoints and high stakes waypoints, in the form of high stakes summative tests that tactily insist to a child “Here is the carrot.  If you reach the carrot then you get to eat at the table.”  Well, a carrot is not much of a meal to me, folks.  Teaching to the test is cheating our youngsters and tricking them into believe that waypoints, like passing section 1 of a college course so that you can get into section 2, are always as simple as just scoring some magic number on an exam, rather than being able to synthesize, connect and then, God fobid, use the stream of information that we have provided in class.

So, in my estimation, students enter college at a disadvantage.  Here is when I also challenge parents. I often hear about parents of college students who call into a student’s college advisor complaining “Why is she taking all of these useless classes like English, History and Philosophy!  She is there to study Accounting!  You are running up her bill for no reason!”  Folks, please!  Students need to be good thinkers before they can be good learners (these are not the same things; they are distinctly different things), and then they need to be good learners before they can be good employees or entrepreneurs.  There are no shortcuts.  We need to work together to help students respect, desire and then gain an education amidst a culture that keeps suggesting to them that they are in college to earn a degree.

It’s your future.  Take charge!