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November 12, 2009
In The Village
Which school is the best school? Tips for college and life
by Orson Scott Card

It's that time of year -- the applications for college admission are getting filled out and mailed in. Ambitious kids (or the children of ambitious parents) are deciding what school is best.

I'm afraid I'm a little cynical about the prestige of prestigious universities.

For that matter, I'm more than a little skeptical about the reasons why so many young people (or their parents) choose the colleges they choose.

If you go to the prestigious university with the world-renowned faculty, exactly how many classes do you think that you, as an undergraduate, will get from those famous professors? If you answer "none" you're probably closer to the right answer than anyone who chose a positive integer.

(Those who chose fractions or negative numbers are probably not ready for college; those who chose irrational numbers are even more cynical than I am.)

And those who choose a "meal-ticket" college -- the business or engineering school that "guarantees" a job may find out that there are no guarantees in this world.

Besides, meal-ticket education is, in some important ways, not an education at all. Training for a particular career, right from the start, rather defeats the purpose of a college education.

The idea is to broaden your mind. To learn things you were so ignorant of that you didn't realize they were worth learning.

If the path of your education doesn't surprise you, at least a little, then chances are you aren't getting an education.

I went into college in order to prepare myself to do Book of Mormon archaeology. Almost immediately I discovered that I hated every aspect of an archaeologist's work. I simply loved to read books about the work of good archaeologists.

Meanwhile, I was spending every spare moment acting in plays and hanging out with drama students, and the courses I actually loved were in theatre and speech.

I changed majors almost at once, on the theory that if I love something, and have a reasonable amount of talent at it, why shouldn't that become my field of study -- and my life's work?

So I avoided one horrible mistake -- tying myself to a lifetime of working at a career I didn't enjoy -- and then made another that was almost as bad. I completely devoted myself to theatre, and deeply resented any courses outside my major that BYU forced me to take.

Guess what? My career has taken turns I never expected, and while I have used my theatre training in a lot of situations, what I draw on most from my college experience is precisely those general education classes that I tried my best to avoid in college.

The end product of a good education is not a graduate who is trained to do a certain job, but rather a person who is practiced in acquiring new information, testing and questioning old and new ideas, adapting to changing situations -- all with a grounding in the experience of all the communities we belong to.

How many graduates of professional schools -- new-fledged doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants -- have discovered that they still have to spend a vast amount of time actually learning their profession on the job?

There are fields where your college training actually sets you back -- in a fast-changing profession, your college teachers simply couldn't keep up.

And there are fields where there is no need for a meal-ticket college degree. Both my adult children interrupted their college experience in order to go straight into their dream jobs. One of them is a computer game designer, the other an actor, director, and producer; no one has ever asked them for their college credentials.

Most of the real training for a specific profession is in graduate school anyway. Your undergraduate degree is almost a freebie. Four years in which you can explore the learning of our civilization.

Who knows what you might discover about your own interests and talents and desires, when you finally get enough information to find out what they are? Subjects you hated in high school might become your favorites in college.

I know -- there are parents reading this essay who are already planning to hide this issue of Mormon Times so their college-bound kids won't see it.

These parents are grimly determined that their kids will get the college education that will prepare them to make a good living.

To some that means getting into the "right school." To others that means training for a good money-earning profession.

You want your kids to "succeed in life."

What does that mean? If you measure it in money or fame, then your kids need to get out of your house as fast as they can, because you have adopted the world's values, not the Lord's.

Whatever work your children do, O parents, they should be good at. But they should also love their work, and that absolutely means their profession cannot be chosen for them by anybody else.

Suppose your kid becomes an English teacher. Or ... wait ... let's try one that's absolutely guaranteed not to make money: a high school drama teacher!

He or she will work ridiculously long hours teaching stagestruck kids and putting on amateur performances that are never as good as they want them to be. And for this they'll make only a modest income. Money will always be a struggle. Their kids will do without many of the luxuries our culture offers. They will struggle.

Is that such a bad thing?

They will have just as much chance for happiness as people who plunge into careers that make a lot of money.

The people who do best at every kind of job -- including, especially, child-rearing -- are those who have become truly educated. Knowledge is always at their fingertips. They can adapt to whatever life throws at them. They can even change professions when that's required.

They define themselves by the people they love, the people who love them, the communities they belong to, and how closely their actions adhere to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If this is the way you see life and education, then you're ready for the question we started with: As a student sending out college entrance examinations or as a parent preparing to pay for college, what is the best school?

The answer may surprise you ... next week.


Copyright © 2022 by Orson Scott Card Printed from NauvooTimes.com