This week I am continuing with my biographical posts. I hope you enjoy learning about my adventures in photography!
I have been debating for several weeks whether to write this post or not. Clearly, I am passionate about education, my own and that of others. It is in my nature to be helpful to others, so anytime I can be of help to someone I am. Recently, the education system I was educated in and then worked as an educator has been under scrutiny. I feel it is under threat really. The appointment of Betsy DeVos as the Secretary to the Department of Education is unbelievable, as she hates public education and really wants to use it to push her beliefs on others and to take money from public education and funnel it to private education. Furthermore, as far as I can tell she is not interested in making university education affordable which has always been a gateway for people to earn more money over the course of their lives.
While I have been thinking about these issues for weeks now, about two and a half weeks ago, I photographed the Annual Day at The Study (a middle/high school in Udaipur). Annual day, is a day where all the students perform dances, skits or sing. The guest of honor at the Annual Day was one of the deans from MLS University in Udaipur. He gave a speech about the importance of education. However, he not only praised math, science, and reading, he also acknowledged the importance of socialization within the education system. (If you are a reader who knows me personally, you know I am sensitive, especially about topics near to my heart, so you know this man’s speech made me cry.) He knows what I know and what many other people who have attended or taught school, that it is multifunctional.
I decided that it was important for me to address education and the ways it has affected me. I understand that perhaps my message will not reach anyone who does not agree with me, but it is still important for me to express my views. The purpose of this blog is to further my own knowledge on the photographic arts of South Asia as well as that of my readers, because of this mission I feel it is important for me to state my views.
Over time, in the United States it has become fashionable to believe an education is only useful for one to get a specific job or to know the basics of how to read and write. Over time the education system in America has come to value the regurgitation of facts, not the ability to think for oneself. I think this is the single biggest mistake in America today. At my last teaching job, at a community college, we were given the task of evaluating or students critical thinking skills. I am sad to report the results were not good. However, I realize that maybe some of the students did not fully appreciate the weight of what I was asking them to do. In addition to this, at another school I taught at a student who did not know what CO2 was, told me that I could not test them on that because I was not teaching a science class but Art Appreciation. Obviously, I was not testing them on their knowledge of CO2, it was something mentioned in a video they watch and the announcer said CO2. I told the student what it meant so that he could answer the question.
Now perhaps it is not important if a college student knows what CO2 is but I find it important that they can think for themselves. None of the progress in the world would happen if people did not have the ability to think independently. If you believe in God, then I would suggest it is one of the greatest gifts he gave mankind. Ultimately, the ability to think critically can be used in whatever job or life situation one finds themselves in. It is the ability to see what will happen if one decision is taken over another, it is the ability to understand a topic from multiple angles, it is the ability to figure out the solution to a problem. But the ability to think critically must be fostered. It is like a muscle and if people do not use it, it atrophies.
Regardless of what you study at university, critical thinking will be nurtured. I know a lot of people who think all my education is useless. They thing to themselves so what if you know how to take a good photograph or know what composition is. Who needs all that art history knowledge, I apparently just know a bunch of dead people’s names. However, I know so much more than that. I can think. It is brilliant. I can express myself both in written form and visual form. I even have the ability to transfer my knowledge to others in a coherent manner.
So, I think everyone gets what I am saying about critical thinking. The other important aspect of getting an education is all the people you are surrounded by. At school, probably mostly at the college level students experience diversity. They get to see and understand that life for everyone is not the same. Empathy can be learned and fears can be overcome. The more diverse someone circle becomes the more open they become to other possibilities. How can we ever understand one another if we do not talk to each other?
The diversity I experienced during my time in college along with the trip I made to India opened my mind more than anything else. I have been fortunate enough to spend time both in classrooms and in the residence hall with a varied group of people. My undergraduate experience was punctuated with friends of Mexican-American and African-American decent as well as, friends from Bolivia, India, Vietnam and a girl who is of the world. Obviously I also had amazing friends who were white and from many backgrounds. Each of these individuals shared their unique world views with me with love and kindness. Their friendship and support inspired me to continue to graduate school.
In graduate school I was surrounded by a more diverse group. My fellow students and friends came from Texas and beyond as well as, Haitian, South Korean, French-American, Jamaican, Lebanese, Jordanian, African-American, Iranian and Indian. Sebastian and Jung opened my eyes to the history beyond the West. The diverse perspectives have helped shape the way I view the world today. To each of these individual’s I am eternally grateful.
One can absolutely experience diversity in other settings, but an educational setting provides a fertile ground of curiosity and exploration. We put some price tag on education and debate about its importance. Do not get me wrong, I do not believe college is for everyone and that is absolutely okay. But to make getting an education more difficult for those who want one is sad and wrong. Yes, one can read a book or watch some Youtube videos, but these potential educational outlets, like my blog are no substitute for the experience of college.
This is why education is important. The environment, people and mindfulness make college more than a place for learning a skill to get a job. While I would not change a thing about my own educational experience, when I talk to young people about going to college, I encourage them to know why they really want to go and to have a path in mind. There is no reason to spend money on college if you are not really interested in being there. In the past I have also been honest with my students who ask me questions about going to graduate school. I discuss the cost and other issues with them. I tell them they should have a clear reason for wanting to get a master’s degree, that perhaps should not be job related.
The United States has found its self in a quandary about education. One the one hand, people will tell others they should go to college to get a better job. But then when the better job does not come through people say that it was your choice to go to college. Where does that leave anybody. Education cannot be valued part-time. The nation must be all or nothing. The nation deserves better than what it is getting right now and shame on all of us for letting it happen. Education is the greatest gift I have ever been granted. Thank you for reading my stream of consciousness. I feel much better.