what’s the Point of school?

With the passing of my qualifying exams almost two years ago, the concept of school as it had been known was over. Sure, I still have to take classes and receive grades, but that is largely unimportant. The focus is now on what I need to learn to do research mathematics, and to take from these few classes the decreasing value that will help in this endeavor.

So this, in addition to my role as university instructor, has led to a lot of reflection on the role and purpose of education and in particular, university education.

People often say that college should have a utilitarian purpose. That it should prepare people directly for their future careers, or their daily lives. To some extent, it should. But in the end, our lives will be far too diverse and unpredictable for either instructors or even the students to know what needs to be known.

The typical economics model is that the university degree is useful in signaling to future employers that one is capable of obtaining a college degree in a relatively cost efficient manner. This stands in stark contrast to what I think college is.

Which is a development of thought and character. A little more precisely, college sharpens one’s perception of the world and the manner in which one gathers information, forms opinions, and reaches conclusions. The college major puts one such methodology into primary use, and it changes the way one thinks and the way one behaves.

It’s not about pouring some amount of arbitrary set of facts into your head, but affecting the way you think, the way you think about thinking, and the way you go about thinking.


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