I am just as mad as any other student about the budget cuts and tuition hikes that are happening on our campus and the rest of the University of California. Yes, it makes me steam to hear about the inflated salaries of top administrators! Yes, it pisses me off that there is no transparency between students and the higher rungs of the university ladder! But in these moments of anger and frustration, I feel we are losing sight of what is the bigger issue at hand.
As students, our pockets are the ones feeling the impacts of this budget crisis. But also as students, it is our minds that are the vessels receiving the education we are paying for. Why is it that we are so vocal about how much we pay for our education, yet we are largely silent about what we get for all this money?
We are students, but also consumers. We have no problem vocalizing our demands as customers in other situations, such as going to a salon to get a nice haircut. To ensure that our haircut is top-quality and worth our money, we are explicit in describing what we want. Our education from UC Davis is no different than a nice haircut. We are paying a lot for it, so we should be just as particular and active in describing what we want from it.
Amidst UC Davis’ crisis that is heavily entrenched in financial issues, I see an incredible opportunity to examine the “issue” of education itself. While we fight for higher education to be accessible and affordable to everyone, we must be asking ourselves what kind of an education we want to be receiving. It is not enough to be actively protesting how much we are paying for our education – we must be actively deciding what sort of an education we are paying for. March 2 can certainly be a day of action, but it should also be a day of reflection.
I am a proud Aggie, but that does not mean I am completely satisfied with the current education system at our university. Too often, the system treats knowledge as a commodity and distributes it to as many students as possible. The system thrives off of large class sizes and impersonal PowerPoint slides that neither inspire discussion nor spark debate. It uses multiple-choice tests that rely on a banking model of education – one where professors transfer important factoids to students to be regurgitated later. Does this system help create an environment that fosters questioning and curiosity? Is this even real learning? Most importantly, is this what we want?
I believe that higher education should be a journey of awareness, discovery and self-growth. Just as I want the price of my tuition to change, I want a change in the curriculum itself. I want the university to change into something that is more democratic, more participatory, more welcoming to individual needs and learning styles. I want to be challenged in a way that forces me to be grapple with the complexity of conflicting values, perspectives and beliefs. I want learning to be more of a process and more experiential. I want my professors to not be the only authority; I want to learn from peers in “student-teaching-student”-style seminars. I want to learn theories and then be given adequate chances to put them into praxis. I want there to be institutionalized means that allow me to study sustainable food systems. I want general education requirements that force myself and every other student to come face-to-face with nature and agricultural processes. I want this university to reconnect to its responsibilities of being a land grant university. I want a curriculum that empowers me and makes me realize that I can change society for the better. I want to leave UC Davis feeling critically conscious about the world, not consciously critical of it.
Someone once told me “if everyone agrees, then something must be wrong.” I see the deafening silence of students taking an active role in claiming their education as a problematic consensus. Something must be wrong with our current education, and we need to fix it. We are doing an excellent job expressing our feelings about fee hikes, but this is only half the battle.
Fellow Aggies, we need to not let ourselves become victims of complacency. Let us rise up from our lethargy of challenging the system and take an interest in what we really are paying for with these fee hikes. Let us be difficult. Let us ask questions. Let us work to make our demands known to those higher up instead of being interpreted as disorganized and misdirected angst.
You may be here for just a few years, but this institution will be here long after you graduate. Work to make it something that you are proud of and something that the students who sit in these lecture halls and bike these streets in the future can be proud of as well. To my peers, decide for yourself what you want your education to consist of and then speak up. There are possibilities waiting to be discovered. Don’t let your education from UC Davis be based on normative standards that were established before and without you. Don’t envision the potential of what your education ought to be or should be. Make it be just that. Let us work together-staff, students, administration, and collectively create a new paradigm for education, not just a new price tag for it.