This is my column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  Thanks!

One of the great things about my work in an emergency room is that I get to talk to people with every variety of educational and work experience. I especially enjoy talking with college students. While the intoxicated ones are less engaging (though equally entertaining) conversationalists, most are genuinely delightful. In speaking to them I can gauge their passions, ask about their dreams and explore how they view their educational experiences.

It’s fun. I well remember the lovely young student who told me her plans after graduation. I might have expected many answers, from law school to business. But she answered, ‘I’m joining the Diplomatic Security Service.’ ‘Do you like guns?’ I asked. ‘I love guns,’ she beamed with a wide smile. You just never know.

Others are less clear. They may have been excited about engineering, but find it less enjoyable than they thought. Some ask me about medicine, and whether I would recommend it as a career (I always do, by the way). Some are thrilled by their teachers; some frustrated that their instructors have poor command of English.

They great thing is that young people, from high school to technical school, to college and beyond, are usually passionate about what they perceive to be the value of their educations and hopeful about what they imagine their futures will look like.

However, looking back from the perspective of spending a long time in the educational system, I tend to evaluate education critically. And as a father of four, who will all be in college too soon, I am very concerned about the future of college education. More importantly, I am concerned about the value of higher education as it pertains to actual, not imaginary, jobs. I am far less interested in the prospect of higher education as a social or cultural experience, or a time to ‘mature.’ It’s fast becoming evident that families can no longer afford four years of ‘experience’ which do not lead to a good income and future.

Education is changing. Some educators are threatened by this, but let me simply say to all those involved, everything is changing, so don’t worry. Medicine and publishing are changing, and it isn’t all bad. So the trend to non-traditional experiences like online education, community college and tech school, or to certificates and trades rather than degrees with very little income potential, are all positive. They all reflect a population growing wiser about the vast amounts of money spent on educating themselves and their children. Furthermore, as physician and apologist John Patrick says, ‘The printing press largely rendered lectures obsolete.’

The future, it appears, will require young people to have core skills, like the rapidly vanishing ability to write and speak clearly. And it will demand that they integrate technology with the ability to learn new facts and tasks quickly. A patient, who was a building contractor, once told me ‘I don’t need a kid with a construction science degree. I need one who can communicate with my clients. I can teach him to build.’

More to the point, however, I want my kids (and every kid) to ask what they expect from education. If they believe that education will, in itself, give life meaning, they’ll be disappointed. If they believe that four years of protracted adolescent behavior will automatically guarantee a job like their parents had, then they’re sadly misled.

But if they can see education as a way to express a love of learning, and to take learning and apply it to a necessary, and available, job then the various types of education available today can fit the bill, though everyone will have to determine what situation best fits their finances, lifestyles and interests.

Education is wonderful. It has power to transform our lives. But education is not life, and life is not all about degrees or titles. Perhaps the best education our children can have is one born of family, faith and character, that teaches them how to navigate life with love and peace, with regard for others and a broader vision of their own lives, even as they learn that they have to make enough money to pay their own way.

If we could accomplish that, if we would begin early in life to teach our children that education involves the heart as well as the mind, and that it is a process that requires personal responsibility and true maturity as well as pursuit of interests, then education will continue to transform the generations.

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