There is no doubt in my mind that education is not what it once was. And no, this is not about to become a screed about the lowering of academic standards. Rather, it is only a recognition that like just about everything else, education has become a commodity, its value measured almost exclusively by its ability to lead to a good-paying job.
What's wrong with that, one might ask? While having a job that remunerates well is a desirable outcome, in my view, as a retired high school teacher, it should be one of the end results of a good education, not education's raison d'etre.
The classical notion of education, as a process whereby we gain the tools with which to interpret the world, is now considered a quaint notion, one that may be pursued by the wealthy, but one that has no practical place in the 'real world'. In other words, acquiring the tools for critical thinking, as opposed to the learning how to design something or to enter the business world, is largely considered to be a time-waster, something that will not serve one in good stead. That is how far we have deviated from and declined from real education.
And, at the risk of sounding like a wild-eyed radical, that departure serves the corporate agenda very well. Universities, once a breeding ground fermenting new ideas whose goal was to make us better as a society and as a species, has become so debased that it is now largely there to maintain the status quo, not to rock the boat. It no longer holds the potential for infusing society with new intellectual blood, but rather has become the silent enabler of the corporate aim, to serve the god of unfettered capitalism that masquerades as the friend to all.
So, on this first day back to school for so many, what can the average person do, hungry for change and challenge to what has become the status quo that has betrayed countless millions of North Americans? She and he can become educated and acquire critical thinking skills through the rigours of reading and informed discussion.
Here are a few suggestions to start off:
The Trouble with Billionaires – Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks
The Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein
The Death of the Liberal Class – Chris Hedges
One warning to those who haven't read these works: approaching them with an open mind will inevitably lead to agitation, outrage, and a changed world view. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, you will now begin to see 'the man behind the curtain.' I do not advise perusal at bedtime, unless the prospect of insomnia inspires no fear.