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What if it Wasn't the First Day of School?

Emma Caspi

Staff Writer

Photo via The New York Times.

I walked into Dawson wondering how our education system came to this supposedly “enriching” program posing as a segue to become an erudite. Originally, believe it or not, the idea of higher education was similar to that of Plato's academy in which revolving and perpetual discussions ignited the minds of young academics. I cannot help but think about what would happen if we didn’t have a “first day of school.”

When did this omnivorous system metamorphosize into the somewhat treacherous system we deem “our future” today? I stumbled upon this question on my first day of Liberal Arts, wondering how such a program—which was created by a slew of philosophers and curious and eager scholars beguiled by the art of expanding the mind—morphed into a religious and exhausting test of our minds, constantly observing if the information we have been force-fed is retained.

Moreover, Liberal Arts is just one example of the many programs that have undergone transformation. The sciences, business, nursing engineering, they have all evolved to be far more strategic, like perhaps our sanity and jurisdiction in our lives are indifferent.

John Newman decided to voice his opinion through his book The Idea of a University in 1852. To understand his stance on education, he explains in Discourse VI that, “The enlargement [of the mind] consists, not merely in the passive reception into the mind of several ideas hitherto unknown to it, but in the mind’s energetic and simultaneous action upon and towards and among those new ideas, which are rushing in upon it….There is no enlargement unless there be a comparison of ideas one with another.”

So, you mean to tell me that this system began as one to actively learn and not passively cram the specifics of who allegedly founded Rome, Julius Caesar's last words to Brutus or Cleopatra's scandalous affair with Marc Anthony? I could have spared myself perpetual tears of frustration and defeat for not remembering the exact year that Johannes Gutenberg printed his first book? I can't be the only one curious to know what provoked scholars to engage in such tedious work, or rather what drove these educators to heinously create these impossibly high standards.

Michael Austin attempts to answer why the education that Newman proposed is no longer the same in his informative book Reading the World: Ideas That Matter. Austin believes that building an economy is far more important and justified than learning for learning's sake. He even goes as far as to say that the educational system has morphed its curriculum to be purely job-based, meaning that what you learn will only be applied to what you pursue in the future.

Understandably, this curriculum partially makes sense in the preparation for the 'real world'. However, what about the rest of our lives we do not spend at work? Shall we doddle the hours away, waiting for our next meeting? Austin believes that education is objective, not inherent, and thus, everyone perceives it to serve a different function. This idea has been seemingly abused by our government allowing us to believe our function is to provide them with wealth. Moreover, Austin uses Seneca, a stoic philosopher of Ancient Rome who deeply valued the virtues that education brings forth, as an example to enhance his own belief that education is not pursuing certain programs, but using our minds to create virtue in which a functioning and free society may exist.

We can see that our education has morphed not for the betterment of society, as some would lead you to believe, but for a larger influx of money in our economy. Of course, this is not to negate any other reasoning of why our curriculums have changed, but only to exhibit that we are now seen as lucrative profit. We have all been affected by it…you don't believe me?

I had a Dawson teacher once tell me that “feeling like you are going to die during a test is normal.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but it is not. But what if it didn't have to be this way? We are forced to accept and live in our world with all of its flawed norms, but what if we broke out of it?

Now, please don't take this information too seriously, as Oscar Wilde would indubitably frown upon that. I simply wish to help you invoke the curiosity you may have lost.

What if instead of waking up with apprehension, we rise with a refreshed and inquiring mind? What if the exams we dread fill us with fulfillment and pleasure? What if our hearts ceased to break at the sight of an 80%, or our teeth did not chatter when our teacher called upon us? What if our graduations were not celebratory because we completed our tumultuous and frustrating classes, but because we reveled in every moment and asked every question you thought of? Imagine a world in which education does not rule us, but we rule it. What if it was not the first day of school, but the last day we wereignorant?


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