It would be challenging and likely unproductive to define in terms of specific accomplishments and goals, the definitive purpose of higher learning. This is to say that generally speaking, we all come from unique backgrounds and for just as unique reasons have chosen to continue our exploration of the world, now aided by the channels of university curriculum and programming. But to what end?
The benefits of a university experience are typically measured in terms of employability and earning capacity; this naturally reflects our culture’s value of a citizen. Of course, there are also those who hope to see personal growth in a student above anything else: instructors and employers and hopefully friends who hold cultural awareness, self-induced self-evaluation, and confidence as the preeminent objective for students. We all ultimately want some kind of value and worth, so how does one measure these rather abstract concepts?
Students, especially today’s, are inherently consumers. There isn’t exactly anything innately wrong with this mentality, but like breakfast at Taco Del Mar before hot yoga, it has implications. The focus of a student (when there is one) is to absorb the knowledge and experiences from instructors and professors, to absorb the knowledge and insights from texts and film, to absorb a breadth of concepts and theories, philosophies and assumptions. This is consumption. We may talk of ambitions to one day make change, have influence, start charities, donate time or money to others who are making that change, or shape our for-profit careers around corporate responsibility. This is good; it’s preparing for the future, or rather, preparing to prepare the future.
Suppose the responsibility of the student is then to take the time now for critical reflection and learning and at some later time, after all the necessary facts and figures have been collected and configured, it’ll then be the appropriate time to give back. Okay, when will that actually be? There’s this conversation in medical, philosophical, and theological circles about when life starts. Opinions vary anywhere from before the formation of a zygote way up to the delivery of a newborn and it tends to be controversial. Fair enough, but I think the debate should extend to and include adulthood. Because so frequently it’s only in early adulthood that the ideas of starting one’s life, one’s career, one’s vocation are problematized and considered. Planning for the future is great, but better yet is shaping the future.
It might be the case that many of us really weren’t prepared for adulting and instead we’ve been moulded into consumers. We’re ideologically motivated creatures, our upbringings and assumptions are the rudders of our ever-drifting yachts of pretense and obtuse design, each at the centre of the world. It’s not a surprise most millennials don’t naturally bend towards authentic social entrepreneurship; this wasn’t taught.
The education model is what it is, but while participating as consumers of knowledge, could students not receive with one hand and give with the other? I’m not aware of any reason, theoretical or empirical why not. In fact, even among us dead walk a few who are truly living. There are students who actually give back to their community, in a purpose driven way. They take time out of their me-centred lives, driven by some kind of prospect for a more desirable later. As you read this, there are a number of students part of UFV who are living out the future they hope we can one day call the now. I believe this mindset is deeply rooted in the understanding that when you put things off for a time when you’re more informed, more creative, more confident, more whatever, you never actually come to realize those self-inflicted prerequisites. Nothing to be done, Godot doesn’t actually come.
To avoid the consumption / production dialectal labels and their complications, I won’t suggest we change our focus to be producers in a consumption-focused culture, but I will advocate that we invest back into the world we expect to invest in us.