Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Value of Education

My son attends Meigs Magnet School since last fall. The school is part of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Acceptance is based on grades and a lottery. The other day, I had the chance to visit during class. I received my primary and secondary school education in Germany. The visit was my first at a US magnet school. The teachers were competent and involved. I saw children of a great variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds. Their diverse faces shared one striking feature: big, bright, and curious eyes. I was deeply impressed by their ubiquitous thirst for knowledge and cannot imagine a more profound demonstration of the essence of education. Its success cannot be bought. Rather, a successful education depends upon opportunities given and opportunities taken.
This principle also applies to higher education. Currently, graduating high school students and their parents are preparing college applications in this country. The New York Times ran an instructive article about the work of guidance councilors on January 4, 2008, accompanied by an illuminating Q&A section. Obviously the parties involved are deeply concerned with the wisdom of their decisions. Often, the equivalent value of a home may be spent.

I have studied and worked at four academic institutions, that is the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt a.M., Germany, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA, the University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland, and Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. The most demanding undergraduate class I took was a three-quarter course in Biochemistry for premedical students at UT. Regardless of private or public institution, only a select few students I met were eventually accepted by medical schools affiliated with the Ivy League. Besides impeccable grades, the most influential factor seemed the MCAT score. Everybody felt the need to take the Princeton Review.
Although higher education costs a lot in the US, it is a commodity without warranty. Education is not like a garment made to measure. Keeping with this analogy, the garment's fit depends on the ingenuity of the tailor and the wearer alike. The prospective student must decide in which environment her/his development may benefit the most. This may not necessarily be at the most expensive and prestigious school. A superb teaching environment does not depend on prime recreational facilities and posh accommodations. There may be value in simplicity. One of the most brilliant teachers whose thoughts are still remembered after more than 2,400 years worked with very little overhead.

  • Unigo is the most informative college survey site, if you do not know which direction to turn (added 09/21/08).