It was Chairman Mao who said “If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself.”
The quote is one which illustrates the necessity of direct experience in the acquisition of genuine knowledge, one which has been echoed time and time again by philosophers of all kinds – particularly as it applies to students in schools and universities.
While the purpose of student life is to acquire experience and, therefore, gain knowledge, this aspect of college education has been diminished considerably, and at great expense.
The importance of direct experience in college learning has not gone away, and yet, we are not making sure students get the experiences that they need. Far too many majors lack the necessary field work needed to make students employable upon leaving the university system, contributing to an educational and economic system that is critically hostile to new graduates.
Furthermore, this also creates a problem of insulation. Universities, and those who attend these institutions, are essentially sheltered away from many of the realities faced in this country, something that is only serving to increase the social gap between many people in this already divided nation.
If the purpose of student life is to garner experience from which one can function and thrive in American society, then our universities are largely failing to deliver on this purpose and function.
To fix these problems would be a significant undertaking, but one that is worthwhile, as it is imperative that students and graduates are able to properly interact with different communities when they are no longer sheltered by the university system.
Keeping the students in a university for their entire undergraduate life, whether they live on campus, or just take classes there, is a mistake that must be remedied. Students coming into adulthood and independence should be taught and educated about the many different social communities within our country. To keep them at school only exposes them to a community of academic privilege.
Therefore, to fulfill the purpose of student life – to gain in knowledge through direct experience, it should be university policy to make students work in farms, ranches, and factories, so that they could grasp an understanding of how different social groups live. This semester should be free of charge for the student, as they will not be using university resources.
Throughout the student’s’ education at the university, they should also have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of classes and events that encourage hands-on learning in the field of their major.
Without this, how can we expect graduates to truly be prepared for the workforce? Lectures are only a portion of the puzzle. While good and necessary, they can not, on their own, make sure that American graduates will be successful, or even employed.
From a socialization standpoint, it seems that students are more than willing to try new things, and to gather information through hands-on understanding. However, since the university does not provide adequate educational avenues through which to do this, students do so by drinking, partying, and ruining their bodies.
This is what student life has become, as the purpose has been made miniscule by the very academic institutions that should be upholding it. If the point of student life is to gain knowledge through experience, so that one can apply experiences to the real, working world, then our colleges and universities need to shape up. We can only blame the economy for so long. At some point, we need to work around the limitations. Universities may be getting budgets cut, but they are still rich enough to provide a wealth of experience.