I sat near the front row of our classroom, close enough to engage in discussion, yet far enough to bow out if necessary. I had plain jeans, a nondescript t-shirt and some forgettable, but nice-looking shoes. It was an English class; most students were women, dressed in an assortment of pajamas, sorority and university shirts, and a medley of whatever else they stumbled into that morning. They were all young, but I have a little bit of a baby face and could have passed for my early twenties, so I didn’t seem to stand out too much.
We were discussing authors like John Dryden and John Milton, discovering their views on censorship while applying them to modern society. I agreed with John Milton–there is a clear distinction between good and evil, you just have to understand evil so you don’t succumb to it. Milton went on to encourage those with opposing opinions to open up a dialogue, rather than censoring each other.
In that spirit, I said it was important to allow sexist and racist media into our society–Sun Tzu said that, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles,” and I figured that could apply to social battles too. Besides this weird thing called “free speech” that I’m pretty fond of, you can’t just sweep evil under the rug and hope it just dissolves away.
Pajama girl, months out of high school, vehemently disagreed. “I get it, censorship is bad. I totally agree… but it’s absurd to give validity to arguments about sexism or racism by publishing that trash. You’re taking the author’s words way out of context.”
“So who decides what ‘isn’t valid enough’ to publish? You?” I wondered. And I already knew what context the authors were speaking–they were speaking of far harsher circumstances than we have to deal with today, but I would get to that later.
“I know what you’re getting at, but there’s a difference between censorship and stopping hateful people from having a voice.” Pajama girl was on the defensive, repeating her few lines of argument over and over.
We debated for a bit, but she didn’t really have much ammo to work with. Even our very liberal teacher ended up siding with me.
I loved college. I didn’t feel like an outcast, or misunderstood by civilians who obviously aren’t going to understand what I’ve been through.
With that said, I identified one pervasive issue: many treat education like some kind of god. That elitist mentality that so many veterans have disdain for? That’s where it comes from.
This idea is born from somewhere healthy. Education can solve so many problems: it broadens perspective, helps your problem solving abilities, and just plain old makes you smarter. Third world countries improve exponentially when good education is introduced to their children and young adults.
But these extremely positive attributes have been conflated into something more. Education is often regarded as some ultimate form of transcendence.
I’ve been on four combat deployments with 3rd Ranger Battalion, which pales in comparison to the experience of some of my brothers in arms, but it’s something. I also finished my degree in English Literature, and have found that my college education was an incredibly valuable tool. If I had to pick? It would be experience over education every time.
Formal education might tell a pianist how to read music and what it means to follow a tempo; those things are important. Still, countless pianists have gotten by without a paid professional teaching them the difference between flat and sharp notes. The pianist that gets paid to perform nation-wide concerts is the one who grew up playing his favorite songs, practiced multiple genres every day, and played in bars and on street corners day in and day out. Real experience, in the real world.