Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Essay: Isn't Education Merely Potential?

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

Here in the Philippines, the latest batch of students just graduated (my own sister included) so I thought that it would be appropriate to tackle education attainment. A diploma is typically a method of culling the capable from the incapable. Unfortunately, it is also all too easy to objectify people, reducing them to mere accomplishments (awards, degrees, grades, etc.) rather than accepting them as individuals. Now I'm not downplaying those who've managed to graduate, those who've pursued graduate studies, or those who are planning to take further studies in the academe, but let us remember the reason why we pursue education. Education in my opinion is not an end in itself. Rather, it is a means to attain something. An aspiring lawyer for example does not take law studies simply for the sake of doing so (although people are more than welcome to expand their knowledge base). He or she pursues law studies theoretically in order to become a lawyer.

If you can see the logic in that statement, then allow me to progress into my next line of thought: education is merely potential. Now potential is well and good but there is a difference between potential and actualization. The latter is tangible while the former is not. Take for example my undergraduate degree. Me and my classmates graduated with a degree in Creative Writing (and our program consisted of classes like fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and drama). Once we've left the university, there is absolutely no guarantee that we will write fiction, poetry, nonfiction, or drama. In fact, some of us have indeed pursued a career other than those that our degrees would dictate. Just because I have a degree in Creative Writing does not mean I will actually be a writer. Education merely provides us some of the tools and it's left to us as individuals to sort them out and actually utilize them.

Oh, and here's another important fact: people who've graduated with degrees in their particular field aren't necessarily experts in their particular craft. Again, it's easier to use myself as an example. I graduated in 2004. Unfortunately, the fact was that I wasn't a skilled writer back then (nor am I one now). (Now I'm not saying that pursuing my degree was a useless endeavor. Some of my fellow graduates have become talented writers in their own right but I'd like to think more of it is attributed to their own individual skills, talent, and initiative rather than solely on their education.) And I've seen this occur in other fields. Business majors don't know how to run businesses. Literature majors can't critique and merely parrot their teachers and their text books. Computer Science majors stopped honing their programming skills and updating their knowledge.

Again, I'm not downplaying the importance of education. I've witnessed some local writers pursue education outside of the country, in established universities, and prestigious workshops. However, I don't judge them to be great writers by that fact alone. What makes them talented writers in my eyes is their output: they write terrific stories. Because the human condition cannot be isolated, certainly their education has played a role in their ability to produce such compelling work. But obviously, not everyone with a degree in some famous university will end up being the greatest person in their field: they need to actualize their potential. And unfortunately, sometimes, the actualization falls short of the perceived potential.

On the other hand, formal education is not the only way to reap one's potential. There have been numerous instances for example when people with no business backgrounds become millionaires and market moguls. When it comes to writing, there are numerous editors and writers who have neither a degree in Literature nor Creative Writing yet become prominent and influential in their field. My teacher even told us this story about a 30-something housewife who had no previous history of publication suddenly deciding to become a writer and her stories easily qualified for workshops. If you merely look at the official papers of these people, they have no apparent potential yet they more than make up for it with their output. It has become a pet peeve of mine when people become skeptical of other people's abilities because of their lack of education. For example, a local publisher was questioned what right did he have of publishing and editing his own periodical considering his lack of a literary background. For me, that's the wrong question to ask. Does it matter if he was lacking a literary background if he published quality stories? Now if the critic had based his judgment on the actual output (and they're free to ask the question "what right do you have of publishing this kind of material considering it's all crap?"), that would have been fine. But these days, I find that people are basing their questions solely on education attainment.

What I want to say is that at the end of the day, your own tenacity, your own initiative, and your own skills factor more when it comes to your career or profession more than your education ever will be. I'm not saying that don't get a diploma as every bit helps but never, ever, feel entitled to something just because of your degree or education attainment. The world is changing, the world is dynamic, and the best way to prove yourself is through your actions rather than through simple bragging rights.

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