What is the Real Purpose of Going to School?

Theoretically, an educational system operates to encourage and reward the love of learning. College was constructed to be a place in which to explore different subjects and identify academic passions. However, gaining a college degree has become a necessary step in obtaining a medium to high-paying job in our society, therefore making the degree itself more important than the process by which it was earned. Instead of being rewarded for a love of learning, students are forced to go through a regimented system of grading, numbers, and calculations that all simply serve as a means to one specific end.

Take, for example, Gallatin, a college within New York University where students can create their own majors with very few requirements. Students have chosen majors such as “What is Evil” or “The history of war” and the options are essentially unlimited. The school rewards creativity, uniqueness, and an exploration of knowledge. However, many critique that the majors students choose are impractical and useless later in life, because of the tendency to automatically equate a degree with its economic value. From the critique’s perspective, it doesn’t matter if the student spent an eye-opening four years discovering and cultivating their own intellectual passion and identifying their personal strengths and weaknesses as an academic – because the degree doesn’t lead to a great job, it is basically worthless.

This mentality is dangerous. If students only see school as a means to an end, wherein the end is simply obtaining a high-paying job, then the ability to love what one is learning will basically be diminished. The pressure to compete is always unnecessarily high in an atmosphere where the single goal is to be the most successful, and this is an additional stress that can be too much to handle for many young people. If students were incentivized and rewarded for demonstrating that they have identified an academic passion and want to explore that field extensively, it could be argued that our society as a whole would be better educated and more unique and creative.

What if we created a system where, from a young age, students were able to pick and choose the academic subjects that interested them and were able to explore these subjects more deeply? What if teachers relaxed on giving out excessive homework and incessant exams, and instead employed other, more creative methods that would motivate the student to creatively solve problems on his own? What happened to learning for the sake of learning?