by Peyton Carter
Originally submitted as an EDGE assignment
We might all hate the EDGE program at SUU, at least a little bit. It’s long, it’s tedious. Sometimes instructions make no sense. Sometimes the instructions are kind of mean, to be quite honest. Let’s cool it with the CAPITALS, okay?
Then, to top it all off, you have to purchase and read a book that pretends the exact point it makes, like, six times in five chapters, isn’t spelled out completely on the back cover. Yeah, and I paid for that.
So what are we getting from EDGE? What are we getting from all these classes we don’t like and don’t want to take, for that matter?
On Monday, I read an article in the Atlantic entitled “The Unexpected Schools Championing Liberal Arts,” and I may have read it only because the EDGE program gave it to me, but that’s beside the point. It was about schools one wouldn't expect to take a liberal arts approach to their craft, such as military, art, or cooking academies and how diversifying curriculum to involve all subjects, notably in the humanities, can contribute to far deeper understanding and advancement of the technical and trade-specific skills.
What I was most interested in, though, were the stats from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences about the decline of liberal arts in public colleges. Notable was the claim that, “The proportion of all bachelor’s degrees awarded that are in humanities disciplines has dropped to 6 percent from a peak of 17 percent in 1968.” The article concludes that this decline is due to schools wanting to focus on getting people into skilled jobs.
In my opinion, this manner of thinking shows that there is a misunderstanding in the public sphere about what education is meant to be. Does it prepare someone to do something extremely well for their whole life, or does it enable them to do anything extremely well for their whole life? Education should, at its core, be humanizing to the individual. The world needs more thought and compassion. Often, that can stem directly from the understanding gained in a wide-ranging education. Sanders called this “becoming,” and what annoyed me in his writing was, again, a lack of depth. As if every person doesn’t want to be something.
However, our education systems often fail to deliver those proper skills of becoming, taking it for granted, as if it’s a natural ability borne of the American spirit or something.
What I think is forgotten is that most people, perhaps every person, truly wants is levels of depth to their thinking — so they can become something (a better human, maybe?). However, our education systems often fail to deliver those proper skills of becoming, taking it for granted, as if it’s a natural ability borne of the American spirit or something. I would say it's because of a misunderstanding even Sanders (credentials unknown) exhibits. It’s clear to me when he states, "the primary purpose of education in the United States has never been to develop workers and teach them job skills but rather to help them mature into capable and contributing members of society...". Perhaps we primarily want this idea to be true, and pray it someday will be, but just look at the the current lackluster results to our liberal educations. How many students don't know why they're reading the things they read for their essay-writing classes? How many students actually pick up on the undertones in all their lessons without them being pointed out? Can’t anyone see that things — these crucial things! — aren't working?
So at this point, I’m clearly just frustrated by the over-simplicity of the text, the redundancy, the focus on entrepreneurship, our flawed education system failing millions every day, and then the gnawing insistence that I will gain nothing, not a thing, from a $10 purchase in a class where I am not challenged nor content. What did I pay for, a door stop? It’s not even thick enough for that! But then our assignment reminded me of perhaps the only Sanders quote I highlighted unironically.
“Yes, in college you will pay tuition and fees, and you will purchase textbooks and supplies,” he said. “But what you are actually paying for is access and opportunity; you are not purchasing an education.”
But don’t think I’m giving in yet, y’all. I really appreciate the sentiment of becoming versus buying — it’s true, but I think it's important to address why it is that students believe they're buying results in the first place. Why do they believe they can cheat or cut corners for grades that will “earn” them a degree? Why do schools have to supplement the knowledge of how to get the most out of education 18 to 20 or more years down the line? Isn’t it clear as day to a toddler that what they will become is the most amazing, exciting experience in life? What happens from then to now? And why does the wonderful, benevolent thing Matthew L. Sanders and the EDGE program are trying to do with this book make me so disappointed and angry?
I think it’s because people already do recognize the points of Mr. Sanders, and the issue lies in the personal and individual aspect of the How To, not that What To. How is each individual going to apply these concepts to their life without getting lost in the dream of becoming and all its wonderfully detailed subheadings? I've bought a book about becoming with all the answers plain in black and white, but it is absolutely maddening that it doesn't help me become anything unless I already know how to make it do that.
I think I know how to learn actively, with intention, and I've known for a long time, since people kept telling me in the same way this book has. But it took a couple years of careful, focused self-examination to achieve my very base understanding of what I need to actually, physically do to truly learn. Study groups, study schedules, study habits, planners, journals, proper ventilation, sleep management, mental health — all of these thing I had to figure out for myself, not because no one tried to help me, but because it’s all up to the individual to navigate, and limited are outsiders with good directions.
And so, like those military, art, and cooking academies, I think I did it with the help of courses in the humanities, existentialism and the like, where I learned through example, trial, and error to recognize the learning occurring on all those levels even when I wanted to scream that I didn't — and couldn't — understand. But perhaps even more so, in mathematics and geology, courses I detested at the set out, simply because I told myself I hated them, I had to force myself to care and force myself to learn to understand. And so I believe it is not so much one branch of academics or the other, or the fun one has in exchange for one’s money, but instead that well-roundedness of experience, success and frustration — a comprehension of one's skills and weaknesses, that is the best example of why any class you love to hate is so important. Because the learning and experience we need to become students to then become the best humans we can be is present in the things we don't try because we presume they'll be harder than what we're doing currently.
So let us — or make us, because let’s be real — Make us do hard things, and things we don’t understand, and maybe we'll figure out for ourselves what all those words, said again and again and again, are really supposed to mean.
Oh, but is Matthew L. Sanders’ definitive work one of those hard things, worth the money and pain? Not by this account.