This post’s title is a play on the idea of six degrees, or connections, being a sufficient number to link two people, even those unknown to each other.
For today, I’m thinking about an academic degree, rather than a degree that describes a connection between people, and how that academic degree divides rather expresses a connection.
Old Whitewater has the lazy, entitled, lower-middle class habit of thinking that a university degree – in and of itself – is a worthy measure of a person’s learning or understanding. It’s a status-based culture, in which a few are sure that a formal education necessarily proves intellectual and informational superiority.
I’m from a paternal family that very much values formal education, and has for a very long time, but fortunately without the conceit that formal schooling necessarily implies some sort of superiority.
On the contrary, we would say that formal schooling is a human good, but one that establishes (if one is discerning) a burden, and a social obligation, but not an entitlement.
Part of that burden is continuing reading, study, and commitment to a cause, long after one has left school.
Use of a formal education as status distinction, the way an Englishman would use an aristocratic title, is beneath a discerning American. Education is a pursuit that should continue long after formal schooling ends. One should read literature in one’s field throughout one’s life, and learn things in new fields along one’s way.
(Occasionally, I have remarked on someone’s formal education, but only to make the point – however imperfectly – that much should be expected of someone who’s been formally schooled. It does not matter to me if others don’t think they’ve such an obligation, or underestimate the depth of that obligation; it’s a old truth apart from what they or I might think.)
It’s coldly disappointing how many times I’ve listened to some of Whitewater’s officials speak to others as though those speaking alone understood concepts that are, in fact, well known to most people. It’s a conceit, and a laughable one, to presume that there are only a few sharp people in a community. On the contrary, most people in most communities are very clever, and function well each day at complicated tasks.
Civilization would not – could not – have come so far if the overwhelming majority of people were not capable and clever.
If that stings someone’s sense of formal, educational entitlement, so be it. If one reads well, reasons well, and writes well, one may easily distinguish oneself. If one reads poorly, reasons poorly, and writes poorly, then one is a poor reflection on one’s school.
It does no good for someone to say he went there, or he did this and that, if years later no one can discern that he went anywhere or did anything much at all.
A formal education has so much to offer (far beyond money, by the way), but it should inspire one to offer much, rather than slothfully rest on a decades-old, formal experience.
The learning that leads to a degree should be only a beginning.