How Much Education Does a Normal Person Really Need?

You could probably describe me as an education junkie. While I did take what I describe as ‘the five year approach’ to getting my masters — I only took one class a semester — I’m actually only two classes away from graduating.

Now that I’m this close to finishing, though, I keep thinking about the possibility of a doctorate. It’s not that I need one: my work isn’t exactly academic. But I like going to classes and learning new things and I’m not very good at not being in school (I started my master’s a semester after finishing my undergraduate degree).

But this isn’t just a question of whether I need another degree. It’s a question of if it’s productive to go and get it.

What’s Education Ever Done For You?

I think education is absolutely critical for everybody — to a certain point. On the most important level, I think education teaches us to learn. The ability to go out and find new books, research new topics and all of that is the point of getting an education. After you’ve figured out how to stick your nose in a book without a teacher waving a ruler at you, though, it seems less necessary to go for some sort of degree unless you actually need it for a license or another credential.

I fully admit that I don’t exactly practice what I preach. I almost certainly could have taught myself everything that was on the syllabi for the classes I’ve taken in grad school, especially if I could have gotten my hands on a really good reading list. But I personally just really enjoy going to classes and having a formal environment where I can quiz a professor (or other expert) on a given topic. If you consider it as more of a hobby, I suppose it makes sense.

Is It Productive?

This is me just thinking in type, but I’m not convinced that formal education past a certain point is the most productive use of time for a lot of us. It’s a convenient package to learn a whole bunch about a given topic and college and grad school may be an efficient process for a lot of people. However, for many of us, it might just be more efficient to go through a stack of books on the subject. It would certainly be cheaper.

A big chunk of my complaint is the lecture system that most schools use. I’ve been through more classes than I can count where a professor simply parrots back a book chapter or recites his slides, while students furiously scribble. I don’t know about you, but that isn’t a good use of my time. In class discussions have benefited me a lot more, as have labs where I can go through a process or technique with an expert close at hand (as well as a fire extinguisher). Those classes are far less common, though, especially in the liberal arts.

I’m not decided yet on the doctorate. But if I do go for it, it’s going to be because I enjoy the topic and the teachers, not because I’m trying to accomplish something. Formal education makes for a great hobby.

Image by Flickr user F. Tronchin

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