Opinion: What’s the point of education?

Lately, I’ve found myself sitting through lectures and asking myself: What’s the point of all this lecturing? I mean, I know that my professors explicitly state the material covered in lectures and readings will be on my exams — worth 20,000 percent of my grade or whatever — but what if I don’t care? More specifically, what does memorizing the material I don’t care about really do for my intellectual growth? Maybe I’m just a crusty, jaded 28-year-old senior, but I often find myself questioning the very point of higher education itself.

No, this isn’t me writing off the thousands of dollars I’ll be paying back in student loans. No, I’m not trashing the high quality instruction I received during my college tenure. Yes, I do expect some will read this and cock their heads sideways like a confused pug. And I hope they will, because the concept deserves critical thought.

Despite my boredom with her class, my social psychology professor brought up an interesting idea: college is supposed to teach students how to learn. That statement — uttered during the first day of class — stuck with me more than any chapter of her textbook did. And throughout the rest of my tenure at UW Tacoma, I’ve tried to analyze every class, every assignment and every lecture on those grounds. I know what my professors want to teach me, but why do they want to teach it to me?

My biggest problem with academia, especially with some of my fellow students, is they associate the “college experience” with finality, as though showing up and getting high marks directly correlates to life fulfillment. That may be the case for some people, but I don’t buy it. If college cultivates critical thinking skills, shouldn’t we also turn those skills back against the system of academia itself?

Luckily, my best professors try to sway students away from the “grades over everything else” mindset, emphasizing engagement and application over achieving perfect grades. My favorite professor, for instance, provides a deeper dimension to every concept we learn. When we watch anything — whether it’s a film, a commercial or a public service announcement — he always asks us what worked, didn’t work and why. In a sea of classes where facts and concepts are shoved down my throat verbatim, having a professor who encourages me to question the practicality of those concepts endows them with more gravity.

So, I believe all students should apply my favorite professor’s lesson to the concept of education to discern what all this education means to them as individuals. What works or doesn’t work about a class, chosen major, concept, or teaching style and why? Do you disagree with the way your educational institution conducts student relations? Does some lecture, homework assignment or paper seem superfluous and pointless to you? These questions don’t have to be mere hypotheticals — use them as instruments for developing your critical point of view. College itself, after all, is a tool in the quest for fulfillment.

It’s easy to be consumed by the college routine. Heck, letting yourself be consumed by the grade grind will undoubtedly benefit your grades in the end. But time passes quickly, senior year creeps up on you, and suddenly you’re staring down a void — the elusive real life begins shortly thereafter. And no amount of memorization will prepare you for the next step unless you know why what you learned really matters.