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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Getting a Degree, Mommy Style in the Digital Age

I was talking with my mother the other day, and it occurred to me how much harder she had life in general, but more specifically, how hard she had to work to further her own education.

Now, I have it rough, in my whiny little opinion. And I'm only taking two classes. But the propensity of professors to insist that if you have a life beyond grad school you are not taking them seriously enough is ridiculous. People can live and still want to better themselves.

Side point: What is so bad about wanting to get a degree to land a better job? Wanting to make money and wanting to learn are not  mutually exclusive. And yet, to some professors' points of view, if you have any goal other than continuing research (which oftentimes I find inaccurate, inarticulate and self-congratulatory) you are a lesser human being. Why?

And the judgment and scorn these people have for their inferiors. The distaste they openly share for adjunct professors and teachers' assistants. It's...I'm not on board.

Anyway, tangent aside, when my mother put herself through this, she had to go part time (like me) because she also worked. And she also had three kids.

And unlike me, she didn't have Google Scholar. Can you imagine?

These days, if I want to write one of those intensely satisfying papers that explains oh-so-much about the world in which we live, all I have to do is type in my search terms and pages upon pages of studies come up, at my fingertips. I don't even have to know what I'm looking for ahead of time.

Show me selective exposure theory, internet!

My wish is its command.

Meanwhile, she had to go to the library, look up specific studies in the card catalogs, rent out books, transfer notes by hand, the nauseating list goes on. And if the library didn't have it, she had to order it from a different library, wait on them, go back, and do it all over again.

All to find a thought someone had thirty years ago, that they had to publish by citing fifty other people's thoughts from fifty years ago. And then she had to go find the cited thoughts too.

One of the best things that came out of a crappy paper I just read a few days ago (and no, I'm not citing it), is that while more and more people are attaining higher education, the amount of knowledge has remained the same. We're receiving degrees and not learning anything more. I would argue that it's not due to the people who want to get an A in class (as those people usually want to learn, too), but that the structural system of higher education is flawed in such a way that it is beginning to crumble.

I find academic citations no more enlightening than Fox News Political Pundits. They call themselves experts, but on what grounds? Have they even thought through any of these issues or have they simply regurgitated what others before them have thought? Then when they attempt a half-hearted application of old knowledge to new technology and don't back those claims up, those same claims become the basis for the next generation of scholarly papers, simply because they were published.

Obviously this isn't the case for all studies and papers. We need studies, we need papers, and many, many, many people do a good job. But many do not.

As we move forward into a world of online classes and learning, we will become even one more step removed from the sources of these papers. The knowledge will remain the same.

So, here's the main problem: If we all now need a master's degree to know the same amount we used to know from graduating high school, then we need to take another look at our education system. What could eventually happen is that only the rich will be allowed the opportunity to be educated even to the bare minimum of what is necessary in our society.

Like I said, I don't mind that grad school is now "easier" due to technology, or simply the massive amounts of published academic papers to choose from. By all means, lower the bar for me.

But what does that mean for our world as a whole? And how can we get back to learning for learning's sake? Or not even that. How can we get away from this judgmental assholery where someone who does not have a PhD., or a master's, or an undergrad degree doesn't get to have an educated opinion on an issue important to them?

I don't know. Grad school ponderings.


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