Why College Isn’t About Education

For most of the western world, college is not about education. It has become a cultural rite of passage. Evidence of this are the astronomical amounts of money spent on college sports, campus housing, beautiful grounds, and superb marketing. Nassau_Hall,_Princeton College is a transition point for dependent teenagers to become independent young adults. It is used to sever the ties between the parent and the child. And it is used by society to ‘mold’ you into what it views as an ideal citizen. Society naturally constructs a set path with which you must follow and college is a missing piece of that pathway to completeness.

As the first car can be thought of as the first moment of real responsibility for a 16 year old American, college is the moment when the future of the child is no longer at the whim of the parent. It is the transition point between dependent youth and independent adulthood.

youngadultChances of killing all your friends? About 8%.

As riveting as it would be for popular culture to show people actually studying in college (a real rarity apparently), it has opted instead for a perception of the experience as one of finding yourself and partying for 4 years. College is portrayed as a way of people finding their independence, but not in a ‘I am my own man/woman’ way, but in a ‘I have become a member of society’ way.


Because college is not about educating you. It is about controlling behavior and beliefs in a systematic way. By conditioning people to endure the same social rituals we moderate political behaviors and beliefs. This allows for social stability. American culture has the following social rituals, which, if not done, will be met with suspicion and social exclusion.

  • Attaining a Driver’s License
  • Attain High school diploma
  • (Attend College)
  • First Job
  • Marriage
  • Buying a Home
  • Adopt/Raise a child

Controlling Radical Youth Politics

You may be thinking, “Okay, I think you’re full of it.”

“If it is true that colleges are meant to regulate political beliefs, than why do we commonly see rebellious political action arise out of our college system (Vietnam being a good example)? One may think that it is superior to have no college, that way, you don’t have the youth grouping together discussing and exchanging ideas. This would, apparently, stop a propagation of beliefs and ideals that are contrary to the current political system.”

What a great question. I think this is a misguided view. It is a view that thinks the “elites” regulate the “non-elites.” That people at the top puff big cigars and try to get everyone below them to believe what they believe. This is only true in a society which does not allow for middle or upper-middle classes (i.e. totalitarian dictatorships). In a world where people have actual choices between what they do with their lives, regulating society becomes much more difficult.

monopolyguyNo. You cannot have a Cuban cigar.
That’s reserved for white men with bow ties

To answer this question we need to go a little deeper into how humans deal with contrary opinions in a society.

Why Ancient Hawaii Sucked

Humans are naturally social, as a result they conform to social desires and goals. This does not always need to be done through the threat of violence, but if you don’t care about the peons below you it can be. Another option is to ostracize someone which, for a social creature, can be a worse punishment than violence as it brings with it real life consequences (no food, shelter, etc.).

In tribal societies, violence is used quite frequently for those who try to disrupt the ‘natural’ order of things. Ancient Hawaii is an excellent example. After the second wave of migrations (from Tahiti) to Hawaii, the methods of social control in Ancient Hawaii turned very strict. A system of laws dependent on religious taboos was given extreme prominence. Here are some interesting laws.

Pro Tip: don’t break them.

  • Men and women cannot eat together
  • Women cannot eat pork, bananas, coconut, taro, or certain kinds of fish (the delicious kinds)
  • No access to religious power/legitimacy of rule (mana)
    • No drinking Kava (drink that gives mana, restriction apparently relaxed over time)
    • No ‘stealing’ mana by standing in the shadow of a high ranking chief

The punishment for breaking these taboos was immediate death.

tabooAncient Hawaiian Commoner: Praying for an overcast…

Taboos with regard to the chieftains are made to preserve the legitimacy (via religion) of their rule. They called this legitimacy ‘mana’ but in reality it’s a way of saying commoners have none, and can do nothing to get any. If they try they will be killed. Also, not stepping in the shadow of an elite means that commoners cannot even accidentally come close to one. And if they do, they have to spend the entire meeting making sure they don’t touch anyone’s shadow. Try to complain about his leadership then!

The opinions of an Ancient Hawaiian farmer didn’t matter much to a chief. They were merely pawns in the great game of conquest between rival cool kids. The commoners just had different owners and they continued their lives generally undisturbed. But the control over their behavior is real and the methodology to do so can be frightening. We force citizens to participate in (sometimes) pointless social rituals to get outcomes beneficial to our society.

Strict caste societies need strict rules to ensure that commoners don’t realize the power they actually have (outnumbering their superiors dramatically). The elites try to leave the commoners alone and those strict rules need to benefit the poor just enough to ensure that they don’t get too pissed.

What happens when we have a society where a poor commoner can ‘jump’ castes? Where a poor man can become the most powerful political figure of a nation (hello, Abraham Lincoln!)? Well we need a way to include those new-comers in society. We need a way of including their radical political opinions into the discourse of a large, diverse nation. We need a way to compartmentalize them into bite sized pieces so society can judge them. We need an institution which can take our hot-blooded young adults (age 18-24) and let them vent their opinions in a controlled way, then to convince them to become members of our society.

In sum, we need a really large military, or a really large college system.
military-vs-collegeEurope has chosen college, the U.S. has chosen a midpoint between the two. (Fun fact: almost all dictatorships select the military option, Cuba being a fun rarity here)

College Controls the Youth

College is that stepping stone between having no political opinion, and having a political opinion. Society wants to make sure that your opinions don’t include those that overthrow the state. In-fact, a lot of people hope you don’t get those opinions. The non poor like the way things are.

If you do decided to become a communist/anarchist/anti-war trouble maker, you will get your media attention. Then society will compartmentalize your desires, and ostracize you accordingly because those opinions come from an institution that society has created. If the grumbling goes far enough, a couple bottles of tear gas and a couple hits to the face will be in order. If you endure that (and get it on TV), society may start changing a little bit.

But if it goes that far society has already succeeded. It took extremely radical opinions, filtered them into small political demands to the existing order, and can implement some of them easily without much fuss. The movement dies down, and society improves a little bit. Good work.

SUB-OCCUPY-1-articleLargeAfter ruining your future, suffering tear gas, and being thrown in jail…
Your reward is two sentences at Obama’s next press conference. Cool!

College has permeated popular culture in such a way that those who attempt to work in any white collar profession without a college degree are given immediate rejection. The resume will not be given a second of consideration. But the rejection goes further, it is not just from working society, but from friends, family, and community leaders. If you choose to not go to college you are electing to opt out from a cultural rite of passage. You are electing to not become a member of society.

The purpose of ideology is to convince you that these are the things you want and are moral to pursue. But even more than that, other people want you to want these things, really, really bad. To witness others following this life plan fills the random stranger with an overwhelming sense of self-worth. That is real power. It is convincing people that they want to believe in something so bad, that they forcibly try to get others to believe it to.

mortgage_insurnacePlease validate my life choices… this sucks

No amount of secret police, presidential speeches, or inspirational news stories will ever come close to the effectiveness of ideology in getting citizens to regulate their own behavior. From this stance I say the ethos of college has begun to penetrate modern American ideological thought. Attaining a driver’s license, getting married, or having a child are not, on their own, moral decisions. But they are decisions which reflect upon, and are used by, your peers to determine your moral and political character.

If there is any axiomatic truth in the political world it is this; truth is determined by collective societal beliefs and is not based on some objective fact. So please, go to college… but not to learn. Go so that you believe what I believe. Go to college and become a part of my society. I need your willing compliance to keep getting my paycheck.

Thanks 🙂

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      1. Thank you for visiting the blog! Education is a very complex topic, I sought to give just one of the many perspectives on college. I’ll be sure to visit your blog as well, take care!

  1. Very interesting. My alma mater markets itself by talking about how it shapes students into critical, questioning, responsible citizens. College in America is obviously about a lot more than studying–it’s supposed to be a character-forming experience. You are correct that in the end, the graduates don’t end up questioning society nearly as much as we might like 🙂

    1. We want them smart enough to work the desk jobs and to contribute in a minimal way to our political system. I think the fact is a lot of people just don’t care for politics so they take a back seat. One day I think I’ll write an article on how this is beneficial to us :). Thanks for stopping by!

      1. Haha, you think people being indifferent about politics is a good thing? Okay, I’m intrigued–if you write that post, I’ll definitely read it.

  2. “College has permeated popular culture in such a way that those who attempt to work in any white collar profession without a college degree are given immediate rejection.”
    Well said. The frustration and lack of enthusiasm to learn anything worthwhile is a huge consequence of this.

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

      Unfortunately college for some is much more than simply a way of filtering people. But greater society treats college (and in turn, conditions highschoolers) as if its a giant party/find yourself adventure. I think the truth is its a forced investment with low (or negative) yields if you are interested in any liberal arts field.

      That is one reason why, even though I have a deep passion for politics, I didn’t get a poly sci major. I figured I could study it on my own time rather than paying thousands for a teacher to tell me to read free books

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. With a few degrees to my name, but not the PhD’s that graced my father and both grandfathers, I know a few things about education, but since I attended my last class as a student in the US in 1978, I can’t pretend to know how things are now. I can say that the vast majority of my own education has happened outside of the classroom.

    1. Hello JGarrott, thanks for commenting! I think people obviously learn things in college, it’s just that my argument it that isn’t its primary purpose (hence why there are so many degree paths that are extremely ambiguous as far as what they want to teach you). The world is always changing around us it seems and the role of college will certainly change when I’m older as well.

      Take care

  4. “So please, go to college… but not to learn. Go so that you believe what I believe. Go to college and become a part of my society. I need your willing compliance to keep getting my paycheck.”

    So much agreement, dude. I restrain an eyeroll everytime someone waxes about college being about opening your mind or changing your worldview or stuff. No, that’s a *side effect* of higher education. The *point* of higher education is to give you job skills so that you may be a productive member of society.

    However, as a childfree person, I definetly know about how society can offer the “evil eye” against people who don’t follow the life script. For that, I have no issue with people who decide to go to a tech school, or abstain from a college education entirely, so long as they still become productive and self-sufficient. The life script is not right for everyone, but in order to veer from it, you’ve got to have a plan that’s still ambitious and effective.

  5. Really great post! I’ve been thinking these thoughts a lot recently, but in a much more vague way. There is certainly a lot of censorship and bias for an institution which is supposed to value free thinking. I would have included some comment about the change in epistemology since the 19th century. The elites in the universities no longer think there are objective truths or standards, and so, what you have is a mere power grab. The ‘will to power’ as Nietzsche put it. Truth is not necessarily a trait of survival, so why focus on it? What matters is (like you said) getting the majority to somehow conform to the elite’s ideology, whether it’s true, moral, or sensical doesn’t matter in the end. Any attempt to find a unified whole in ethics or truth has gone out the window, and the result is that…college isn’t about education in the classical sense, but in educating one to be part of the consensus.

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