?Living in a Bubble: What’s the practicality of Academia anyway?

By Nikki Fisher | 1/29/14 6:35pm

Over winter break, I had this moment where I realized that all the papers and assignments I’ve written over the past four years will likely not be read by anybody but my professors and will probably never go anywhere but my Google Drive, where they will gather pixelated dust forever (or at least until Google’s servers crash).

For the more pragmatic of among us, the seeming irrelevancy of this process is an annoyance, perhaps even an obstacle. Sometimes, I fear that we’re living in a bubble here in Academia. We learn to analyze literature, generate mathematical proofs, and write academic essays that are, at face value, a currency only valuable within the system.

I’m a writing major, I work at the writing center, and I hope one day to be a writing professor. This fear haunts me. If this is true, if the value of academia is purely self-contained, doesn’t this invalidate all of my career choices? What is the use in teaching students to better themselves at writing essays which they will stay up all night writing, turn into other professors, and then allow to rot in their hard drives?

These fears are real, but perhaps not as black and white as I have painted here.

For me, writing assignments are practice for what I hope to be doing the rest of my life. But beyond this self-indulgent perspective, I like to believe that there are skills which even the most pragmatic among us can obtain from analyzing literature, generating mathematical proofs, and writing academic essays. For open-minded—or in the very least ambitious—students, these activities can lay the foundation for skills such as critical thinking and creating effective arguments.

Haven’t we all heard this before? The value of liberal education as listed in mission statements, professor lectures, etc.

It’s abstract, that’s for sure, but there is some validity to this argument. Take the WRT 150 classroom, for example, where you’re forced to write three papers in which you engage with arguments in the world at large. Knowing how to express your opinions and persuade others is a valuable skill, regardless of the field or context. It can help you get a promotion, write convincing emails, or persuade your friends into believing you (though there’s more to writing than manipulating others, I assure you).

That being said, you can go through the motions of writing a paper without truly learning anything. Trust me, if I’m being honest here, I’ve done it many times. In this way, critical thinking requires mental, not just physical effort.

If you choose to view the skills acquired in school as simply a means to an end, then you may never glean the indirect rewards of the system. School, in this case, may truly be an empty trophy, an expensive and colossal waste of time.

I understand, however, those who view school as a means to end. I do. Not all of us are in the game or wired for obtaining abstract skills like critical thinking. Many of us are here because we’re in a society where most entry-level jobs necessitate college degrees.

I’m not arguing that this societal prerequisite is fair one or economically viable for all careers. That being said, something to consider when doubting the value of your education: somewhere down the line, many employers decided a college education was a valuable thing. Otherwise, they wouldn’t ask their employees to get a degree before applying. That means we have to be doing something right here.

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