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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Edumacation with Calvin and Hobbes: Big picture boy


flesch_opWatterson, Bill. Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1994. Print.

In today’s society, the value of a college education has greatly increased. Recent trends in the structure of the job market have created a greater need for highly skilled workers. Students seem well aware that how they perform in college will play into their future careers, and they treat it as such. They go to great lengths to build flawless resumes and treat college as a sort of pre-professional endeavor. While this seems a natural response to an ultra-competitive society, it remains to be a surprisingly short-sighted way of treating college.

One of the reasons I love Calvin is because he’s a big picture man. In the column above, he shows Ms. Wormwood that integers are but trifles in the grand scheme of things. Of course, his attitude is a little fatalistic — perhaps he’s too big picture. But that’s the joke.

His attitude does help put education into a larger perspective though. It almost goes without saying that students’ careers will change throughout their lives, and that they will either be disappointed or pleased with whatever station they finally arrive at. But with the increasing specialization of certain disciplines, our generation may find itself in a situation where the highest-paying jobs require extensive education in a narrow discipline. This could have the effect of limiting job opportunities for students graduating from college.

Higher education has long been the bastion of the middle class. But in the past, a person could still expect to earn a decent living without a college degree. In this way, college — the cost of college has risen faster than the rate of inflation.

So what happens when college becomes the new high school?

After reading Calvin and Hobbes, it seems apparent that Calvin comes from a middle class family in suburban America. His true interests are eclectic and fundamentally childish: He daydreams of outer space and travels back to the age of dinosaurs. One could imagine him being disillusioned at a collegiate level, forced to choose one area of expertise in order to make a living. But this has become the standard.

As the value of specializing in a field increases, the value of general education seems to decrease. Speaking in terms of the big picture, a general education is vital. Being able to draw connections across various disciplines helps when the job market changes, as it often does.

Given that the increase in demand for highly skilled workers has made college a standard, it is not hard to imagine a future in which people will need more than four years of higher education to keep in pace with the job market. Graduate school has long been the cornerstone for those wishing to enter academia, law, medicine and various licensed professions. But this does not seem practical for a person undesiring of a career like this.

A solution could be to increase the amount of time undergraduates spend in school, scaling yearly costs appropriately. What would make this different than simply stretching curriculum, would be the addition of various specialties — a sort of compromise between undergraduate and graduate education. This system would look similar to elementary schools that run through sixth grade instead of ending at fifth grade. It gives students an extra year to retain information they learned in elementary school; likewise, an extra year of undergraduate education would help students specialize appropriately for the job market.

Of course, one more year would put an extra burden on universities. The increase of students would certainly warrant the hiring of extra faculty and create other associated costs. Here, I see no other solution than to talk about the gross underfunding that all public schools in the United States experience. Funding should be given far more liberally, and, most importantly, be seen as a smart economic decision. Having a widely educated populace has long been the hallmark of a strong middle class. I’m sure Calvin’s folks would love having him out of the house (and not destroying it) for another year of college.

Education in the United States is unsustainable as it is. With our world rank slipping, and the need for highly skilled workers increasing, we find ourselves in a position that requires a boost in all fields. As much as Calvin fantasizes about his school being blown into the sky, we’ll just have to force him to pay attention to integers; they hold the fate of this country.


To share your big ideas with ELI FLESCH, you can reach him at ekflesch@ucdavis.edu or tweet him @eliflesch.


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