What Makes a Good Enough Education?
Looking back 35 years to my college experience, I have come to certain conclusions about what constitutes a good enough education. I attended an elite college that was, at the time, affordable for my middle-class family. I value my time there enormously, and in some sense, it still shadows the way I teach and what I think an education should be. And yet when I think about what transpired during those years in college, I recall two courses (for the life of me, I can’t remember most of the others I took), only one of which was a source of true intellectual engagement. The rest were simply classes I attended and for which I wrote papers and did labs. They did not impress themselves in any overt way on my young and malleable mind. If my college experience were to be judged by the “value-added” criteria now used to assess what makes college worth the price, I fear that it would not come off well.
And yet, what made my college years so good was something more ineffable—it was a climate of learning that the university, by definition, fostered. Even the most mediocre of professors modeled something of worth—a linguistic facility, a sense that books and ideas were important and that there were people who devoted their lives to them. There was also the time I spent with my gifted peers, mostly over lunch and dinner, and the intellectual jumpstart I got from that one course, where I learned to think broadly and deeply.
Maybe we expect too much from college, which, like so much in life, is about serendipity—in this case, the serendipity of value…