How College Changed Me For the Better

I guess it makes sense given tuition inflation, but today, nearly every “is college worth it” discussion revolves around one consideration—roi—or “return on investment”. More and more people worry whether a college education will lead to more secure, higher paying jobs.

In the last week I’ve been changed for the better by a movie and two books that I probably wouldn’t have seen or read if my curiosity hadn’t been jumpstarted during college.

The movie, Wadja, was an engrossing window into what it’s like to be a woman in Saudi Arabia. Wadja has grossed $1,346,851 as of January 17th. That means few people are curious about what it’s like to be a woman in Saudi Arabia. Had I not attended college, where I learned to like learning about other people, places, and time periods, I doubt I would have sought out Wadja. I’m a more informed global citizen as a result of having watched Wadja.

The books were Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. Together, Cheryl Strayed and George Packer challenge my assumption that privileged people like me will never truly grasp what it’s like to teeter on the edge of economic destitution. Thanks to their story telling genius I have a much better feel for why some people struggle to feed, shelter, and clothe themselves. And more empathy, an attribute in shorty supply these days, for poor individuals and families.

I may not have been curious enough about the people’s lives in those books if three decades ago I hadn’t studied history in college and became keenly interested in other people, places, and time periods. Thanks to excellent professors, challenging readings, constant writing, and discussions with classmates and roommates, I became more curious, insightful, and empathetic.

How does one place a dollar value on that?

Palinism

A few Friday nights ago, David Brooks no doubt scored serious points with NewsHour listeners when he said, “Every second we spend talking about Sarah Palin is a second of our lives we’ll never get back.”

Catchy soundbite, but he was wrong.

We need to talk more about what her parochial, nostalgic, oddly vague and exclusionary worldview means for not just our national politics, but education reform.

Palinism the ideology—a set of conservative political beliefs that rests upon a parochial, nostalgic, vague, exclusionary interpretation of U.S. history—is far more pernicious than her easy to make fun of media personality.

Palinism is a litmus test. If we continue to think of students first and foremost as future workers and consumers, and not citizens, its influence will spread and some of its adherents will win elections. Absent a nuanced sense of our nation’s unblemished history and an appreciation for what a vibrant democracy requires of its citizens, our young people will increasingly opt for glossy, symbolic style at the expense of gritty, grounded substance.

Recently, just for David Brooks and you, I sacrificed 197 seconds of my life watching SarahPac, a brilliant marketing video of Sarah’s bus tour of the U.S. Actually, now I’ve sacrificed over 15 minutes since I’ve watched it five times.

It’s fascinating on several levels. Exercise your citizenship and watch it.

Notice the following:

• In the midst of the hundreds of people that appear in the commercial, there’s one black veteran. Palinism borrows from a recent Modern Family sketch, “White is right.”

• The phrases “restore what’s right,” “restore the good,” and “we need a fundamental restoration” repeat throughout.

• “Founding” and “foundation” also repeat throughout. It’s like a news station repeating the phrase “fair and balanced” over and over. Maybe, if the populace is half asleep, hypnosis works.

• Painfully vague catch phrases are sprinkled throughout including, “be in touch with our nation’s history,” “so we can learn from it,” “move forward,” “all that is good about America,” “effect positive change,” and “America is the exceptional nation.” The classic hallmark of a really bad first year college essay.

Absent a critical nuanced understanding of U.S. history, government, and foreign policy, the videos sophisticated mix of traditional American symbols, music, and vague repetitive narrative would probably work wonders on large percentages of today’s secondary school students.

An older woman near the end gushes about Palin’s “courage and strength” and concludes, “she has it all.”

If we continue to preach the math and science gospel and mindlessly apply business principles to schooling, our youth might conclude the next Sarah Palin and the one after her have it all.

In which case Palin’s videographers might just win the battle of ideas.