Education means looking beyond a degree.
By: Barry Switay
As college students, we should consider the difference between a degree and an education. These two are not in direct conflict, but they are certainly not synonymous.
A degree is a certification stating that whoever receives it has completed a program of study. Hence, the degree sheets in the Enrollment and Registration Services (ERS) office are called “program of study” sheets.
The completion of a degree is valuable in several respects. Job attainment is one thing that comes to mind.
Another is a certain amount of cultural authority enjoyed by degree holders, and of course this grows as one earns more advanced degrees.
Education is somewhat different. Its origin is in the Latin word educere, which means to draw out. Education draws us out of darkness, ignorance, tunnel vision, and arrogance.
According to intellectuals like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Noam Chomsky, education is about discovery. The notion of discovery stands in sharp contrast to memorizing information for tests and then subsequently forgetting it. I am sure most, if not all, of us experienced this phenomenon.
While imagining that someone earned an undergraduate degree without remembering anything is nearly impossible, it is not quite as difficult to picture earning that same degree without discovering a passion for learning. Indeed, if we have developed the impression that learning means memorization, we probably just want to be done with it.
Education certainly involves acquiring information, but not just for the sake of repeating it. The purpose is to gain information so that we can use it to become more authentic people and fulfill our potential as human beings.
From this perspective the burden falls on the student; we cannot expect that other people, including professors, will educate us. They may certainly help, but our education is our responsibility, not someone else’s.
The truth is, of course, that a degree is completed, but education never really ends: it is a lifelong process.
Much of a college education takes place outside the classroom, in discussions with other students and in our own personal reading. These exercises do not appear on any transcript. Nor does what we have learned about ourselves along the way.
This distinction is not earth-shattering or new, but it’s important because what we receive from college may be different depending on whether students focus on a degree or an education. I believe education is much more valuable and that we shortchange ourselves if we aim for anything less.
Unfortunately, outlining these differences will not get us an “A” on that statistics exam or help us understand fluid dynamics any better. The purpose of clarifying it is so that the next time we ask ourselves what the hell we’re doing in college, we can be reminded that there is much more to it than completing Areas A through F.
Finishing a degree won’t dispel close-mindedness, ignorance, or help us fulfill our human potential, but a real college education liberates us to do exactly these things. It is when we aim beyond the degree that our learning acquires a truly deep meaning.