Of course, you don’t need to get a fancy degree to become a cultivated and intelligent person. After all, all of us know people who have got their degree from the school of hard knocks. In fact some of the smartest and most cultivated people I know are the men I’ve met in Papua New Guinea who have honed their skills of persuasion and politics through endless years of pig exchanges, marriages, and peace-making ceremonies — people so astute that they put our current crop of US politicians to shame, but who have never learned to read or even pick up a pen or pencil.
Nevertheless, a college education is uniquely valuable in today’s world because the type of learning it provides is especially suited to our form of democratic governance. But don’t take it from me, take it from one of the founders of our country: Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson believed in state-funded higher education because he thought an educated citizenry was central to democracy. “wherever the people are well informed,” he wrote Richard Price in 1789, “they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.” It is for this reason that he wanted students at UVA to study everything from botany to Greek literature to the fine arts — a liberal education which would “form them to habits of reflection and correct action, rendering them examples of virtue to others and of happiness within themselves.”
One last thing: the funny thing about producing people who are free to think for themselves is that they can do a lot of other things to: learn new job skills, start new businesses, or even invent new industries. Holding fast to your values and doing what is important, rather than what is urgent, often has unexpected and gratifying consequences. It is for this reason that Thomas Jefferson thought that “knowledge is power, that knowledge is safety, that knowledge is happiness.”
A nice piece; I liked the piece especially, because, once in a while, I also get these questions — what are we training our students for and how successful are we in achieving these goals.