Until the end of high school, students are in a race for entry to the best universities. They are focussed on test results, which means they must learn only what is being tested, and learn it better than their classmates. This competitive atmosphere leads to good study habits, but it prevents students from thinking about why all this effort matters. No one is encouraged to ask, “What is it all for?” In other words, no one encourages students to think about the meaning of their lives. The only goal high school students understand is the goal of getting into a good university. And then what? A university has a library, where one can find the greatest ideas ever written. It has classes in which one can learn every form of government that humans have tried, read the literature that has developed our understanding of what a human being is, and study the religions that have guided people for thousands of years. And yet the opportunity presented by all this collected knowledge, art and history is often wasted. Universities have become focussed on job training, just as high schools are focussed on qualifying students for university. Students read some literature, memorize some historical facts, and learn some cultural differences, but they do all this to pass tests. The library itself is just a quiet place to study for exams. A university degree is not proof that one has spent one’s youth well. It is merely a job qualification. For centuries, the university was understood as the place where a young person could escape from the noise of everyday life for a few years and develop an appreciation for Beauty and Truth, before taking his place in the practical world. This brief time of peaceful thinking about life’s biggest questions was designed to produce better, more complete citizens – people who see more in the world than just the popular cultural trends of this moment. Today’s universities are rejecting this traditional goal. They want to be “fashionable” and “useful,” the opposite of their original purpose. They no longer take students to the mountaintop. As a result, students often treat university life as a continuation of high school – just another step towards a good job. They cannot wait to finish all this painful study. But after a person finishes school and gets a job, it is almost impossible to find the time or freedom to ask such questions as “Wha
t am I?” or “How should I live?” For most people, university is the opportunity to pursue life’s great questions, but this moment is wasted on job-training.
However, the great ideas and art are still there in the library and the classroom. Even if the university sometimes forgets its higher purpose, students can get to that mountaintop on their own, if they have the courage and determination. Wisdom cannot be taught, anyway. You must discover it yourself, with the guidance of the great minds of the past. Do not waste your chance.
Daren Jonescu firstname.lastname@example.org
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