Education is useless (or rather: is education useless?): a neighborly discussion about what’s worth learning, and where one should learn what’s needed — or useful — for life.
Crimpet: Hello, neighbor.
Crumpet: Why are you so happy, Crimpet? You look like you won the office pool.
Crimpet: Nothing as wonderful as that. But I’m glad to be confirmed in my beliefs.
Crumpet: A happy occasion for anyone. What’s the reason?
Crimpet: I agree with this recent survey.
Crumpet: Which study?
Crimpet: Let me finish. It showed how most people don’t see the value of going to college.
Crumpet: Your happiness is at my expense! Teaching is my job.
Crimpet: No offense – but I agree with it. It’s a waste of money. It’s four years of expense and loans, time that should be better used working at a real job.
Crumpet: That might make you happier, but not your children.
Crimpet: Ha ha, very good! But that hardly justifies the expense. Think of wages lost, debt, and useless reading. It’s much better to find a job and get some training while earning money.
Crumpet: Useless! I don’t even know how to respond to that. Are you saying reading about other cultures, knowing about political systems, investigating the history of our country are useless?
Crimpet: Sorry, neighbor: yes I am. I don’t need college or university to know about other people: I work with them. They can tell me their history and their culture over lunch, during a work day when we’re actually accomplishing something. I can watch programs about history or politics on TV, or look up news on-line.
Crumpet: So you don’t think that communicating well, understanding other people’s points of view, being able to approach problems through a complex appreciation of their history and cultural embeddedness – soft skills, as they’re called – lead to success in the world after college?
Crimpet: You almost lost me with that laundry list. I mean I nearly fell asleep. But I won’t argue with you that it’s good to know how to do these things. I mean, I do them every day. At least I think I do. I don’t need college classes for that. If you go to university, you should spend your time and money learning science or business: that will give you a good return. All that other reading is just words and such: it’s only training to sound important.
Crumpet: Now you’re being ridiculous, and also forgetful. Weren’t you passed over for that managerial position last year, because people found you too focused on technical details, and hard to understand?
Crimpet: So what! You’re trying to get personal with me. I don’t see your name lighting up the sky. And the person they hired, well she also came from my division at the company. You’re just being defensive because I questioned the value of education.
Look, here comes Tuttle. Let’s ask him what he thinks.
Crumpet: Why Tuttle? He’s always so withdrawn, puttering about his garden. A real oddball. But OK, let’s bring him in to arbitrate.
Crimpet: Hey Tuttle! Do you have a minute? We need your help.
Tuttle: My help? I’m not sure what I can do for you.
Crumpet: Good morning, Tuttle, how are you? You’re looking well. Crimpet and I wanted your thoughts on something. We’re having a bit of a debate, you see, about higher education. Crimpet says it’s basically useless, since time should be spend making money, or at least getting trained in areas of high employment.
Tuttle: OK: that makes sense.
Crimpet: Yes! I knew I liked you, Tuttle.
Crumpet: Wait a minute. Let’s hear both sides. Now you know I work in higher education, so perhaps I’m as biased as Crimpet here, but I’m arguing that reading about other peoples and cultures can make students better informed, and able to understand today’s challenges in deeper and more complex ways. So it’s not useless at all.
Crumpet: So what do you think?
Crimpet: Yes, Tuttle, speak up.
Tuttle: I like both positions, and I like neither.
Crimpet: I knew it was a mistake to ask him.
Crumpet: You’re being illogical, Tuttle, doubly-so.
Tuttle: I read something recently that agreed with me. “That which is useless has its own greatness and influence, since nothing can be made from it. In this way, the basic meaning of things is useless.”
Crimpet: What are you saying, Tuttle? You spend too much time trimming trees and bushes.
Tuttle: Crumpet, you say education provides students with practical skills, in ways that may not be immediately apparent.
Crimpet: Yes – of course. Having these skills can get you far in life, and they’re the ones you can learn at university.
Tuttle: My view is that education is, by these terms, useless. To think about the meaning of things, to dwell upon ways of uncovering their origins and ruling principles, to be struck by their passing beauty, and be genuinely inspired by them: all this is useless.
Crimpet: I have to go, but I think he proved my point!
Crumpet: You really are odd, Tuttle.