Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Educated Fools-Or Foolish Educators?

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Educated Fools-Or Foolish Educators?

Article excerpt

One of my great-aunts, Annie Mae Randall, is as devoted to higher education as any Southern sister. She used to take the bus from Mississippi to Los Angeles every summer to accumulate three to six credits toward her master's degree, slowly and painstakingly adding a few dollars each year to her annual salary and moving toward her goal. Yet, at family gatherings she used to make me the target of her ire because she thought I'd completed my own education far too rapidly.

After undergraduate school, she strongly urged a year off. After graduate school she told me to find a "real job" instead of jumping right into university teaching. She had a running monologue that would go something like this:

"What did you get your bachelor's degree in?"

I'd reply, "Economics."

"And your master's?"

"Economics."

"Your doctorate?"

"Economics."

"Economics," she'd repeat. "Hmm. Imagine all the money you would have saved if you learned it right the first time and got yourself a real job."

I was, in my aunt's opinion, one of the educated fools of the world, one who was replete with book knowledge and deficient in common sense. I used to retort that I'd rather be an educated fool than an uneducated one.

But with students thronging back to school and my aunt pushing 100, her teasing comes to mind. What kind of educational system creates "educated fools" - folks who have little or no practical knowledge of the workplace? Aren't there really corps of foolish educators who have failed to adjust their methods with the times?

Foolish educators are so accustomed to the benefits of the status quo that they haven't bothered to consider alternate ways that education should be offered. Our school calendars are based on an agrarian system with crop harvesting happening in summers. Now, less than 1 percent of all households are involved in food production.

Yet young people have few organized educational activities in the summer months, and working parents scramble to make childcare arrangements. Teenagers seek jobs and perhaps gain practical experience from their endeavors.

But recent collisions with high school students behind cash registers convinced me that some young people need more exposure to books than to work.

During my few days of vacation in Destin, Fla., I encountered a young woman who had to be coached to give me change for a $41 purchase. I gave her a $50 bill and a $1 bill, and she looked at me as if I had walked off a spaceship. …

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