On the Periphery

Things change. Life throws us curves and changeups. It's good to have a place to vent.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Why is a degree so important? I have more than 30 years of solid experience in writing and editing. I have proven myself over and over again, taking on new challenges and meeting them. I have lived many lives, and have learned from each, building on prior experiences, piling success on success. I have proof of these triumphs: photographs, framed awards, letters of gratitude from former students, employers, and supervisors. Yet if I want to share that knowledge on a higher level I must have that piece of paper with the words “M.A.” emblazoned on them like proof of my worth.

What does that degree really tell about me?

Does it mean I had the tenacity to see a project through? I have raised two children into productive, conscientious citizens. Doesn’t 26 years of dedicated parenting says something for my tenacity? As a teacher, I have been sad witness to parents who gave up, and we have all have seen the products: angry, sullen, destructive young people who never had models to show them how to persevere. Doesn’t my parenting success indicate something about my ability to follow through?

Does it mean that I showed the ability to learn? What about the variety of projects I have taken on in my life, challenges where I had to learn a new skill, all with successful outcomes? Do I need to take a class to show my cognitive abilities?

Does it mean that I was willing to lay out a great deal of money to attain an end? (Consider the costs of parenting.)

So what does a degree actually mean? Wait, I am getting to the point.

Our nation has become obsessed with objective assessment these past few years. What does all this testing actually show about our students? Teachers teach to the test, some even giving practice tests to help the students do better, taking time from general studies of ideas to studies of facts. What exactly are these students learning? That the results are more important than the process? That independent thinking won’t get you where you want to go?

How can children enjoy learning when they lie under the sword of Damocles? What about the joy of exploration, the thrill of understanding and questioning concepts? Where is the excitement of exploring one’s own ideas and how they connect with others—or how they differ? Can a prospective employer to look at scores and determine if a student will make a good employee? Are traits such as personality, reasoning, sensitivity, determination, cleverness visible through test scores?

Memorization is not learning. Learning is understanding the facts and then applying them in a generalized setting. Learning is opening the mind to new and strange ideas, changing preconceived notions, expanding the limitations of understanding. While I am thoroughly enjoying the challenges of grad school, I am saddened that it is a necessity—a test, a means to an end—rather than simply the end itself.


Anonymous Kelly Mayer said...

I'm having the opposite problem -- people keep saying it's so great that I'm working on this degree, this program -- but what will the degree DO for me? In other words, how is this degree going to help me make money in the future. And the only answer that I have is that this is something I want to do, and I'm not expecting some high paying job at the end. Then they look at me funny.

3:13 PM  

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