Education: Once a Skill, Now a Commodity

Today's post is authored by Education Project Group Member, Kavya Davuluri. 

Learning is what gives us life. Without learning, the screen you’re gazing at wouldn’t exist, these words wouldn’t have been written, nor would you have been born.

Let’s rewind. A few hundred thousand years may suffice. 20,000 years, to be precise.

Humankind had to learn about survival. Rather, how to survive. Fire had to be made. What animals could be hunted, which plants couldn’t be nibbled on, where water was pure and where the sun scorched down in a deadly stare of heat had to be determined. Of course, it was fairly trial-and-error. But once one individual learned a bit of valuable information, they told someone else, who then told five, who then told twenty.

As simple as telling someone else a thought is, it is an important notion in itself. For this little uttering is teaching. Taking something you know and handing it on to someone else is providing them with a knowledge that they did not have before. Sometimes they can give you a wisp of knowledge right back. Other times, you sit before them in awe, like a student does before a master, absorbing what you can.

So back to cavemen. When they were teaching others about whatever knowledge they had procured, or, in a sense, discovered, it was a skill. It was a tool used to live, to survive. Knowing that a certain berry shouldn’t be eaten, or that it’s best to hunt under certain conditions were little bits of information that let you see the sun dawn the next day.

Education is what gave life back in those days. If you didn’t have knowledge, or weren’t being guided by someone who did, then…good luck to you. If you look at it sociologically, people who knew more held more power, and thus, more respect. It isn’t too far a stretch to think that the present day respect that we give to educated persons results from a tradition built up thousands of years ago.

But now, education has warped into something that is focused less on knowing about things that exist out in the universe, how they work, how we work, why something may happen, where certain things are, who has achieved what, and so on. Simply put, education has shifted from something that was pure, something that existed solely for the purpose of passing information into something that fuels a multi-million dollar industry worldwide.

Before I begin talking about this huge industry, let me make sure you know that education in this new sense isn’t all bad. If education didn’t exist as it does now, only really recognized if taught by a Ph. D. in the classroom of a building owned by a college, then I suppose any person could waltz up, claim that they were an M.D. and begin hacking you open. Anyone could come in and say they could defend you in a trial. But how would you really know that they had the knowledge needed to be a lawyer? Thanks to the whole degree system that colleges employ, you know that they know.

Back to the expensive industry though. “According to the College Board, the average annual cost of tuition and fees at a public university for the 2014-15 school year was $9,139 for an in-state student and $22,598 for out-of-state students. The average cost of a private university was much higher at $31,231 for the same period” (Patton 1).  The problem with the higher cost of education lies not in the idea that it’s warping what education, the passing of knowledge, was originally meant for, but because it’s making it harder for students to attain the education that they need to excel in the world today.

In places such as Detroit, where the average family makes far less than the national median, it can be an even more daunting task for students to pursue higher education, and therefore ensure a better life for themselves in the future. Median household income in Detroit dropped to $25,193 in 2011, according to new U.S. Census Bureau figures. The nationwide median household income is more than twice Detroit's, at $50,502, which has also declined steadily since 2007” (AlHajal 1).

Thus, although the demand for jobs that require higher education has increased, as has the necessity for formal credentials (although this isn’t as recent), the actual ability for students to attend college and achieve these two things has decreased. What exactly does this mean for generations to come?

As I learned in a sociology class I took last semester, a woman who is unable to go to college is likely to work a low paying job. And if she does get married or take part in a relationship, this bond is going to be rather strained if both parties are making low wages. Often times, financial problems are a primary cause of divorce or separation. Should the couple have had children prior to their estrangement, then the children are often given to the care of the mother. And this same woman, who has now to take care of children, maintain a household, and work, is nowhere near able to pay for the higher education of her children.

There are a thousand and one potential solutions to the issue of college being so difficult to get to. Most solutions have their own difficulties and hardships. Governments and corporations and important people have been called upon to make a difference.

But the one who can absolutely make a difference is you. By striving to excel, by aiming to achieve, by yearning to educate yourself and learn, the biggest difference is being made.

In better understanding the importance of college education, take the word of First Lady Michelle Obama: 

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