[Israel.pm] Is University Really Necessary?

Elizabeth Sterling elizabeth at sparkthing.com
Sat Mar 24 12:26:14 PDT 2007

There have been lots of posts since mine, but this one had the most
for me to respond to directly, so, here we go...

> one thing that many people believe, and it is true to some extent, is
> that academic studies help you sharpen your mind - because there is a
> lot to learn in a rather short time frame,
       Absolutely. I believe that this was the case for me, for sure,
especially when I got to Berkeley.

      My first semester there was hell. I already had my first degree
in Latin American Studies from another college, where I had managed a
4.0 GPA (the top possible) despite many personal challenges outside of
school.  I got to Berkeley all smiles and ego and the day of my first
exam I blanched completely. I sat there looking at the exam for five
minutes, considering whether I should just pick up my things, head to
the admin building, sign out of all my classes and head to an easier
school. Over the course of that semester I realized that they made us
read SO much material and stuff SO much into our heads that there was
no way we could swim in all the new information. The whole point was
to just shove it in as hard and fast as possible so that we would have
a base on which to start working out the problems later. Like basic
martial arts training, it was about building up certain things as
nearly instinctual knowledge so that we wouldn't have to think about
them later when we were approaching the really difficult issues.

    Here's the problem, though. Many students don't learn that stuff.
Many students go through the motions, memorize what they have to for
exams and nothing else, and are happy to get passing grades. Years
later they will tell you that the only thing that they got out of
college was a piece of paper that helped them get their foot into the
jobs that they wanted along the way. This is a statement I've heard SO
many times from other people with degrees.

     One of my reasons for believing that it is better for most people
to go to university after some time outside of school is that those
people that I knew in school who were "returning students" (over the
age of 25 by the rules at California universities) did more than just
memorize. Those students who had experienced the world outside of
school and had been trying to support themselves in the workforce
without a degree for sometime understood exactly what it was that
*they* wanted out of a college education, and so they were focused on
filling their real learning needs in addition to satisfying the

> another thing that a university degree shows, is that you are capcable
> of handling long-term projects (the project of finishing a degree).
             Raising children proves that you are capable of handling
long-term projects. Holding down any job for 4 or more years proves
that you are capable of handling long-term projects. Many hobbies can
show this, too.

> formally, without an academic degree, you're not an engineer :)
         "Engineer" is two things. It is a degree/title and it is a
noun used to describe a person who does "engineering" work. In some
countries you need to have the degree to legally use that word to
describe a person, even if they do "engineering" work. In many other
countries, it is the work that defines the person, not the degree. My
title in both US and UK companies has been "software engineer", or
some derivative there of for many years. As said before, I don't have
an engineering degree.

     But title be damned. I wasn't speaking of the title anyway. I
think I was clear in using the word in it's general sense, not it's
proper (with a capital first letter) sense.

> those are usually the exception. it is very hard to find them
> (especially in israel), and very hard to "put your hands on them" if and
> once you find them.
        I don't have time to dig up lots of references for you right
this second, but I will, OK? This is not an exception, but actually
one of the great secrets of life. Self-taught people are
over-represented amongst the top echelons of many fields compared to
the percentage of self-taught individuals in the general population.

> why did you send him to university, if you prefer that he learns on his own?
        First off, unschooling doesn't mean that you don't learn with
others, or even learn in classes. It means that you don't limit
yourself to the school environment and you don't attempt to fit
learning into the school paradigm. If you'd like more information
about it, I suggest you look it up on wikipedia or at

      Secondly, I didn't "send" him to university. He came home from a
trip one day when he was 15 1/2 and said, "Mom, I wanna go to college
in the fall." and I said, "Well, if you can get in you can go." And he
said, "Good, because I missed the last date for the SAT before the
application deadline and Saturday is the only day I can take the ACT
before the deadline. Can I have 90 bucks so I can sign up for it?"
Right about this point I stifled an utter fit along the lines of
more or less the same thing, but with out the caps. He took the exam,
he turned in a full application using a homeschooling portfolio in
place of a high school transcript, he got into college and got a full
scholarship, I certainly am not going to stop him for going!

       He's only 17 now, and yes, it is a little freaky that my
first-born "little" boy is living so far away, in the dorms at his
university, but I said he could go if he got in, and I'm a mom of my

> you are making generalizations.
            Ummm... yeah, I was, and I couched them in words like
"may" and "can" to make it clear that I was not trying to fit the
whole world into those boxes. In fact, I even used the statement
"options are good..." This is not what you would call a logic fallacy.

>  i'm just pointing out that it does
> not happen very often, i.e. it's a system less reliable then current
> schooling.
       And this is where we truly disagree. Like I said before, I
don't have the time right this moment to pull up the statistics and
studies and whatnot. I will do it later, if you really want and
present them to you here. Alternatively, you can look up information
about autodidacticism, unschooling and homeschooling on the Web. I
think you will be surprised at how reliable the other forms of
education can be.

> > As for the question of whether you should go to university right out
> > of high school, I give a resounding NO (in the vast majority of
> > cases). As always, I leave the door open to those rare exceptions,
> > because we humans are such a varied lot ...

> this, again, is different for different people.
            Exactly like I said.

> please don't talk in black-and-white about people - they are all
> different. _we_ are all different.
         If there is one thing that I was NOT doing, it is speaking in
black-and-white. I am not much of a believer in black-and-white except
as part of the larger spectrum. (Sure, black exists, white exists, but
most of life is in all that middle space.)

         OK, back to work for me... :)

- Elizabeth

"In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary
school computer labs ..., is the children are being trained to use
Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I consider that criminal, because children
should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not
running office automation tools."   -- Nicholas Negroponte

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