Experiencing and working in a variety of higher education institutions, I find that every day is a chance to better understand not only the educational system, but also the society that we live in. In some cases, the mission (of the institution and the student) seems to be bare bones education and a name to highlight on a resume in hopes of bettering the chance of finding suitable employment to then pay off student loans. Others seem to exist to train workers to do one particular job well and then require additional education to do another job. Still others find ways to expand a student’s ideals and agility, expose them to things they’d otherwise not encounter, and put them in positions to think about what’s next. I’m sure you can see which of these would be the most beneficial to individual happiness, freedom and our economy, but why is that the one we focus on the least? And why are we trying to do away with it so ferociously?

Some may say this is a class argument. That only those who can afford the luxury can attend a four-year institution that focuses on liberal arts and critical thinking. That for some, getting on the job training and placement is a necessity to enter the workforce immediately.  Still others do not have the money or the time to commit to education, needing to get fulltime jobs out of high school to support their families. This is not merely a branding problem for institutions, but an economic issue and primarily an aspirational issue: how much emphasis are we putting on lifelong learning in this country over the ability to make money and ‘get by’? Have we turned people off completely to being involved in what happens to them civically due to the media’s sensationalizing of political corruption,  misappropriation of funds and political negativity? Has our overall quality of life suffered as we succumb to our roles as worker bees in a society that feel we cannot change? When we stop caring, put our heads down and tinker on, we end up giving up on ourselves and our neighbors. Is this ignorance, truly bliss? Or is it merely avoiding awareness because we can see ourselves as better people if we do not view what is really happening around us, work together and change it?

At the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network Annual Conference, I had the privilege of listening to Ami Dar, founder of Idealist give the keynote address. All of what he said was rousing, but what really stuck with me was the idea that people want to do good and to help but often they don’t because of three reasons:

– Time

– Money

– “It wont make a difference.”

It wont make a difference? This, although an obvious thought, really struck me. That the majority of us does not take part in making things happen because we feel that we cannot affect change. Are we taught this? Since our ideals are usually realized from our parents, for those who are not providing aspirational educational and occupational goals for their children, how can we ‘be the change that we want to see in the world’ if we are all so busy just ‘getting by’? How large of a role does the media play in this? Perhaps a good time to read Chomsky’s ‘Media Control’ like I’ve been meaning to.

Recently, we’ve heard more focus on STEM: in education, in job creation, in careers. That ‘the humanities’ or liberal arts are wasteful. That no one needs to learn Latin or study Greek anymore, foregoing this for ‘real’ needs such as learning Chinese. The issue isn’t which language to learn, its to experience the steps and gain the outcomes of learning a language period. To use your brain. We are getting so caught up in how to get from A to B, from education to job, as fast as possible that we are losing the entire reason for getting – for going into debt for – more education in the first place. To use our brains. To learn the skills necessary to be nimble in any situation, not just the one in front of us. Could this also be a part of our abusively fast paced American culture?

Things are changing so rapidly, that we have no idea what we will need to know how to do tomorrow. Learning one thing is not enough. But, if we know how to figure it out, we can find our place in this world and truly be present and happy. Without that, we are continuously stuck in a cycle of learning, re-learning and un-learning for this particular point in time. Why do we not see the value in learning the skill that will enable us to be more independent and useful to ourselves, our employers and our communities? It is not a luxury to be present and involved in your own life. It is a human right.

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