In the first week of summer session, my English professor handed the class an essay and told us to have it read and analyzed by the next day. Already annoyed at having to spend my hard-earned summer in a lifeless classroom and bogged down by a heavy research paper, my patience was running low. Without giving much thought to it, I began to read.
Writer Jon Spayde begins the essay, titled “Learning in the Key of Life” with a broad rhetorical question. “What does it mean—and more important, what should it mean—to be educated?” Before reading on, I searched myself for an answer to that question. Like the vast majority of college students, or in fact, students all over the world, I concluded that to be educated, one must be at least a college graduate. Because my parents place little priority on prestige (thank God), I am a lot more lenient on what type of college—two-year, four-year, Ivy League, above average, so-so etc. I don’t mind, really.
Embarrassingly enough, being a tad bit proud of my well-bred self who isn’t a slave to status, I resumed reading. I half-expected Spayde to ramble on and on about something super cheesy like “Everyone is smart in their own way.” I couldn’t possibly be more mistaken. Spayde’s insightful essay had me mulling over my own educational goals and standards and conclusively changed my perspective quite a bit.
Spayde writes that a formal education, especially in the area of humanities, makes life and all of its hardships easier to endure. He talks about novelist and journalist Earl Shorris, who took it upon himself to educate low-income New Yorkers in the humanities. Like Spayde, Shorris understood that the humanities won’t necessarily make one rich “in terms of money, but in terms of life.” And they’re absolutely right.
In this day and age when more and more students are going into the STEM field, we are consigning the humanities—history, literature, art etc.—to oblivion. I am in no way slamming the STEM field; technology is awesome and has helped us in so many ways, but knowledge in STEM won’t be so beneficial in “life situations.” Many believe the humanities will soon come to naught, but they just aren’t paying attention to the world around them. Classical music and art, for one, have come hundreds of years and still are subjects of study. History, especially is a constant topic of exploration because it really does repeat itself and what we know is only a fraction of the big picture. In short, the humanities, in the words of Shorris, are a “foundation for getting along in the world, for thinking, for learning to reflect on the world instead of just reacting to whatever force is turned against you.”
The answer to the opening question and the last underlying point of Spayde’s I’ll be discussing is the case that education is essentially up to the individual, and that every nook and cranny around us are places of learning. You don’t have to go to college to be educated. That’s just a silly standard society has set to pressure you. It’s funny that this article is for a college access organization, but it’s true. In fact, unorthodox education may be the best education that far trumps the conventional one.
Spayde makes many great point in “Learning in the Key of Life,” but if I discussed them all, this article will be well over 20 pages, so I recommend you to read the essay for yourself. After that, go outside and try to be active in your community. Who knows what you’ll learn? Every day will be a surprise and a new lesson learned.