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Better late than never?

In this season of graduations, here are some thoughts on the purpose of education from a commencement speech given in the 1960s by Frederick L. Kirschenmann.

It is not enough to get an education that results in a better job, enriches us culturally for pure private enjoyment, or enrolls us in the social registers of the powerful and wealthy. An education that does no more than this for us is indeed not worth it. The only kind of education that is worth the price is one that will enlarge our vision and increase our wisdom for the purpose of saving the planet for ourselves and our children.

To that end, he proposes six competencies:

  1. The competence to challenge and critically analyze the basic assumptions (the “big ideas”) that shape our lives and the lives of those around us.
  2. The competence to make increasingly complex decisions on a daily basis. And he doesn’t mean personal decisions, he means things like how should we allocate scarce resources? And how do we limit and conserve energy resources?
  3. The competence to understand and appreciate the interconnections of everything.
  4. The competence to cope with rapid change.
  5. The competence to simultaneously perform effectively in the profession of one’s choice and to critically evaluate the profession in terms of the larger global issues of the day.
  6. The competence to continually promote personal enrichment.

Sadly, I think the goals of higher education have strayed far away from many of these competencies. To be sure, there are colleges and students trying their hardest to swim upstream against the rushing current of the idea that a college degree is for getting a good job and making money, or heck, these days just getting a job. But it’s like a salmon run with all sorts of obstacles in the way including bears. But there are always some who make it and it seems to me it is worth the try.

To all who undertake the journey, best wishes. And watch out for the bears.

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