Saturday, June 4, 2011

Why go to college? An education

I just watched the movie "An education". One question that kept coming up but never got a satisfactory answer: "Why go to college?"

The private high school teachers claimed that learning (Latin, in that case), although it was "hard and boring", was worthwhile, but I didn't see that they offered a compelling answer.

I disagree with the "boring" part. It propagates a prejudice. Learning is hard, but it is not boring. It carries in itself a lot of its reward. I could imagine the girl in the movie, or her teacher, coming up with just the right way to translate some Latin text written thousands of years ago so as to convey just the right nuances of meaning, and getting excited about it. Or the girl could be spending hours and hours working on a difficult passage with her cello, until she finally masters it, and getting thrilled by the music or by her accomplishment. The movie does not give any hint of what is good about learning, besides getting students into Oxford (and finding a husband, as was apparently the girl's father's ultimate goal for her).

Even for the other side of the girl's "education", the description was not that compelling either. She describes it as "going to restaurants and concerts" and generally going out and having fun, as though that was all that there was about the world outside the (perceived) drudgery of school and work. She could have talked about the excitement of meeting people who are older and who have more experience, more ideas, and more conversation. There was much talk of the excitement of going to Paris on a trip, but what was exciting about it? We have no idea. The couple of snapshots of Paris were just enough to indicate that she was there, but not to imply any particular kind of discovery. The aspects of physical awakening were also underplayed (although surely on purpose, in this case).

I thought the movie was going to show a conflict of values and offer some perspective on the question: "What is the point of getting an education? What is the point of going out into the real world?", but it didn't address that question except at the shallowest level.

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