Affording college should not be a carnival game

I’m somewhat disgusted from watching the college football conference championship games. Not the quality of the games- they were pretty engaging, and go Spartans- but the halftime contest between two people competing for college tuition money. The Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway had two contestants throwing footballs into a hole in a giant soda can to win $100,000 in scholarships.

I don’t have a problem with a corporation handing out some money for college- it’s certainly not the most destructive way to gain publicity, but it does feel strange that people in the United States have to compete for the right to graduate debt-free. One of the long-term threads to American prosperity, especially if that prosperity is to cross class lines, are people of all ages pursuing some form of post-secondary education. High tuition rates discourage poor and lower middle class students from applying at all. And America is rapidly losing its edge in overall attainment:

Credit to The Century Foundation

And struggle in STEM majors:

STEM Graduation Rates1 600x486 The U.S. STEM Graduation Rate Is Very Low Compared To Other Countries

I’ve previously written a detailed speech on the idea of free tertiary education in America, which you can read here. It seems that intelligent and perceptive people should focus on learning, and not fret over balance sheets unless they take an accounting class.

Teaching for the present

Today I’m here to echo another blogger- Ed from Gin and Tacos. He teaches American politics, mostly to college freshman. Thus, he is an eyewitness to all the flaws of secondary education. Students often have issues following detailed directions, doing systematic research, and avoiding plagiarism. But besides those shortcomings, which we could call a lack of “study hygiene”, there are also the gaps in general knowledge. Ed’s point isn’t that American students don’t understand the past- they don’t understand the present.

In his April column “Out of Time” he asks a question that every history teacher must deal with at some level: why are most primary and secondary history classes taught in chronological order? As he writes

K-12 classes still overwhelmingly choose to teach history chronologically. This, in my experience and what I commonly hear from students, results in a seriously detrimental lack of emphasis on modern history. The academic year begins with ancient Greeks and Romans and ends sometime in May, usually having gotten no further than the Industrial Revolution or perhaps World War I.

In 9th grade world history, we started with the basic ancient civilizations- Rome, China, Egypt, Persia. 10th grade European history didn’t go all that far beyond the Five-Year Plan and vintage Stalin. 11th grade US history spent a couple months going from Columbus to Jamestown to the many reasons for the Revolutionary War.

These aspects of history are immensely important, but the world of 2013 is far more closely related to World War II than World War I, and both of those compared to the Civil War or the Revolutionary War. And what about even more recent history? Ed states that

I found a class of 25 honors students – excellent students – totally ignorant of the basic aspects of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent propaganda surge leading to the Iraq War. And why should they know? They were 8 when it happened, and it has never been taught to them.

I was born the year after the Berlin Wall fell. Incoming college freshmen now have no memory of 9/11. Unlike the high school history teachers I had, I was not around for the Cold War. Though for millions of Americans it is memory, everything from the Clinton Administration back is history for my generation.

Why is Barack Obama the president? Why is there a war in Afghanistan? Why did the world economy collapse? I know teaching history chronologically is very tidy and comprehensive for what it covers, but it also cuts out some of the most crucial parts if the class schedule falls behind. The Industrial Revolution is a world-defining process, but the deregulation of the late 1990s and early 2000s is one of the biggest reasons a student’s dad can’t find a job. The Civil War may have been the culmination of over a century of conflict and sectionalism, but modern politics also owes a lot to what happened in Vietnam.

Sitting in my college sociology class, I’m now five years older than the youngest student there. What do I remember that they don’t? And what does my professor remember that I don’t? Education is a continuum of memory, from the most senior teachers to the most junior students. The present needs to be tied to those important events in the past- going back centuries or millennia. But the focus has to be, in 2013, what is required to understand the world?

Transactional vs. transformative

Several months ago I saw an infographic comparing what qualities a narrow-minded person has compared to someone more open-minded. The basic idea is that narrow-minded people can’t escape from negative emotions associated with their relationships. Friends are ignoring you, or betraying you. Your significant other doesn’t compliment you enough. Other, less qualified people are getting promoted while you work long hours. The last point on the chart boiled down how both groups interact with the world. A close-minded person views interactions as transactional, while an open-minded person views them as transformative.

This is deeply important, and the kind of question we need to periodically ask ourselves. Do we interact with people because we enjoy their company, or do we want something from them? Money, power, prestige, sex. Many of us have had friends who used our goodwill for selfish purposes. You probably won’t admit to it, but likely  you have done the same at some point. This worldview extends beyond people, to animals and the environment. Is the environment something of inherent worth by itself, or do we value it only for the material goods it can provide?

Taking experience as part of a transformation means that success and failure are both important parts of personal growth. Instead of becoming more bitter when our desires are denied, the setbacks make us wiser. To me, it seems to explain why some people at 12 have more grace and common sense than others who are 50. If you’re viewing relationships as a zero-sum game, time won’t be much of a help.

If you view relationships as something more, where both people can grow and benefit together, many other things fall into place. We need not live in a well of cynicism.