When I was younger, I was obsessed with the Disney-Pixar movie, The Incredibles. The reason I bring up this classic movie (which has a killer soundtrack by the way), is because a certain quote in it: “If everyone’s super, no one is.” Most of the people I know don’t choose to live their life by a Disney movie saying, but maybe you should. Maybe the idea that nobody is amazing or special if everyone is can transcend more than just a super hero movie and help portray what I view as an epidemic in the American educational system.
You see, as I read Louis Menand’s essay, Live and Learn, I found myself thinking back to that oddly profound cartoon quotation. It’s a question I’ve been grappling for quite sometime and was finally able to articulate when I combined this essay’s theories of why people attend college with my own life experiences. It boiled down to this: If everyone attends college, does the degree they receive retain the same value?
This question started to form in my mind towards the beginning of my senior year of high school. I was filling out the Common App and hating my life when I started to wonder if college was really necessary. I soon determined that, for me, college (and the subsequent mountains of student loans) was a must, but as I looked around my graduating class, I saw a bunch of kids that were going to college without a clear cut path in mind or even a great desire to learn at a deeper more comprehensive level. They were simply going because “that’s what people did.”
I found myself agreeing whole-heartedly with the third theory that Menand proposed: college (for those with non-liberal arts oriented goals) should be a place to learn the skills needed for future careers. I agree that this should be the purpose of higher education for most people, and that vocational/technical schools should be included in this definition. But I would like to take it a step further and propose that not everyone should even attend these schools and that kids should be given the option to start specializing their educational track while still in high school.
I would like to make it clear that I’m not proposing the tracking method that is used in Europe. I don’t think kids should be set on a certain track in elementary school. But I do think that certain classes should not be required in high school for certain students. Take for example my really good friend. He hated math—despised it really. I understand his pain completely, but he already knew what he wanted to do after graduation and it didn’t require him to learn how to find the derivative of a function. He had an apprenticeship set up with the power company to learn how to check lines. It required
him to understand circuits, but he couldn’t take the only class that offered taught that subject because he needed to fulfill his math requirement. This is just one example, but I think that our schooling needs to start being more specialized sooner so that the students who acknowledge that they aren’t cut out for the now “traditional” track of school can find great alternatives.
Besides providing alternatives for kids who don’t want to go to college or can’t go to college, we should also take a long look at how our culture consistently tells students that the need to go to college. I’m not trying to sound elitist at all, but not everyone should go to college; it’s not a one-size fit all career path. Not everyone needs a college degree, and not every job needs to hire someone who has one either. I look at it this way: if everyone has a college degree then the value of those who worked hard and actually garnered knowledge and skills and bettered themselves is diminished by those who just tried to do enough. I mean, if everyone has a college degree, then is it something “super” to achieve at all?