20 March 2014
Word Count: 1420
Students of Education or Students of Life
The educational system, and specifically a Liberal Arts college degree, packs us with knowledge, but does it adequately prepare us for the daily challenges of life? Education is an important tool in life, but it is how we use it that truly matters. Many students are consumed with the idea that knowledge is power and, therefore, college degrees are the ultimate tool for entering the work world. In David Foster Wallace’s “Kenyon Commencement Speech,” he advises graduating students that in order to obtain a complete education, they must learn how to think and what to think and to be involved with the lives of others. It is important to believe that a degree is the key that can open the doors of the mind. The value of a college degree should not be based off of what is learned in class because the degree's greatest value is that in enables students to have flexibility in thought.
Our formal education involves a relatively short period of time. It encompasses our years in pre-school, elementary school, junior high school, high school, and college (including post-graduate studies). We spend most of our early lives in the formal educational system but we do not realize that the greatest education is the informal learning waiting for us in the outside world. Many believe that obtaining degrees increases their self-worth, the higher the degree the greater their status, but there can be a pitfall using education as a way to measure self-worth and success. We can spend far too much time within the closed system of education, time that would most likely develop a narrower perspective of life. In his speech, Wallace stated that, “…education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about ‘teaching you how to think’” (Wallace 199). Accumulating hours of education are useful to a point and then become counter-productive. Knowledge is accumulated throughout life and, therefore, extends far beyond our formal educational systems. It is a constant receptivity and processing of information.
The true value of a formal education and, again, specifically a liberal arts degree, is that it arms us with significant tools that help us learn how to think. This includes “…being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to…” in life (Wallace 202). We have the ability to alter our consciousness through knowledge, “…the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get…isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about” (Wallace 199). The value of an education, then, should not be based off of what we learn or what an instructor is trying to make us think, but what we choose to learn and think about.
This ability to alter our consciousness has immeasurable value since we can “…construct meaning from experience…” (Wallace 200). This mental flexibility aids us in becoming more aware of our surroundings and learning from our mistakes or experiences. The quest for more knowledge within the formal educational system blinds us to the realities of the outside world. We should always be aware that we have choices in our perspectives or how we view and how we are connected to the world around us. It is the variety of choices that help use to think freely.
Wallace sends a warning about the possible traps generated by your conscience, and how these mental snares will affect you once you enter the work world. The day-to-day world of work can make you unconscious to what is really happening in your environment. Constantly utilizing an open-minded approach to life, we can become more aware of what influences our lives, how others relate to us and we impact the lives of others. Drawing further from Wallace’s commencement speech he states that it is imperative to have the ability to alter our mental patterns or we may acquire “…a close-mindedness that amounts to an