The philosophy of education … or something

Elton Wong and Bryan Nichols

Elton: Well, our editor isn’t in yet, and I’ve always wanted to do this, so today we’re going to do like a point-counterpoint column.

Bryan: Only problem is, being that we only have like a week of school left, we’re really lazy. So this will probably be more like a no point/no point column – especially Elton’s part.

Elton: Whatever. Anyway, I’m thinking like some kind of old-school Greek philosophy dialog kind of thing. Like Socrates and Plato and stuff.

So now that I’m a Greek philosopher, the first thing I’d like to point out is I’m sick of all these college kids jacking my culture. Greek system? Toga Parties? What’s that?

Bryan: Yeah, I’d have to agree with Elton, or uh, Eltonius. We never had anything to do with the baby elephant walk. We were too busy worrying about oracles and our crazy gods to get a big supply of …

Eltonius: Anyway, as we’re graduating from school in two weeks, I’m sad to see that the ideals my philosophical brethren and I have been pushing for so long are wasted on this institution. For instance, take the rampant commercialization of education.

My man Socrates taught all kinds of people, and he never even had any money. He just hung out in the market until he got killed. What’s with this stuff like Iowa State selling out to Coke? Can’t we at least get some quality endorsement? Like Cristal or something? Robert Mondavi?

Bryanocles: Yeah, you make a fine point. I know I thought the pimping of Iowa State would end when Jishcke went to seek his fortune at Purdue. But instead we’ve gotten status quo. I don’t expect it to change much, to be honest. Look at what the Legislature is doing to the Iowa colleges. Pretty soon we’ll have to call ourselves Coke U just to be able to have liberal arts.

Eltonius: I mean, you get to the point when you wonder why people even bother with education. I mean, if all you want is to get a degree to make money, why not save up your money and instead of tuition, buy a whole bunch of plastic surgery and become a high-priced prostitute?

Bryanocles: Just like you? Or the university? Yeah, if all you’re doing is coming to Ames so you can go to Iowa State Trade School. It seems as if there are better things you could spend your money on.

My high school calculus teacher worked as a financial planner and said if he could turn the $50,000 we would spend on school into $250,000 in five years if we would let him invest it. So if all you’re doing is coming here to get rich, maybe there are more efficient ways to do it. Hey, Eltonius, what are you doing with your apprentice over there?

Eltonius: These personal slanders demean us both, Bryanocles. Frankly, I think you resort to insults to cover the fact that you couldn’t philosophize your way out of an empty room, you sophist-sounding lover of sights and sounds.

Bryanocles: I slough off your rudeness like so much dead skin. Your hypocrisy never ceases to astound me. Is this going to be a repeat of last week?

Eltonius: I have no idea what you are referring to, sir. Hanging out with you makes me want to call my friend Plato, because you embody the form ugly more than anyone or anything I could ever imagine. Your countenance brings water to my eyes.

Bryanocles: Your friend Plato … “Eltonius” doesn’t even sound Greek. Your incompetence and incontinence astound me.

OK. This whole philosopher thing is going nowhere. Let’s talk about something other than how you partake in the form of stupid. How about the stifling intellectual atmosphere here in Ames?

Elton: How about the stifling atmosphere produced by your stench?

Bryan: Hey, doesn’t bother me. Anyways, what I’m talking about is the atmosphere created by the Trade School students. I think the love of learning is more important than the purpose of making money. I’m not wholly sure that this university agrees with me, though. Remember the conflict last year about research vs. teaching? Do you think that’s been resolved? I doubt it. I just think people are growing to accept that this university places a higher value on profit margins than individual, intelligent thought. That’s a bunch of crap.

Elton: Well, the way I see it, college life is a very useful training tool to prepare people for what the real world is like, in terms of priorities. Nonetheless, I think the attitude of your average college student is indistinguishable from your average multi-platinum selling emcee. It’s all about the cash.

One thing I would like to see more of is people taking more random electives. Like, just because some class isn’t in your major doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it. Looking back on my college experience, for example, I’ve really been able to flip through the course catalog and just take classes that look cool. I’ve really liked all the courses I picked that way. For me, that’s part of what college is about.

Bryan: What? You weren’t even able to pick courses. You forgot to register, remember? But I do agree with you. I just wish the university placed more of a priority on getting an actual liberal arts education rather than getting us out of here quickly so the ISU Foundation can start harassing us for money.

I think a number of people share that sentiment. In fact, I hear some students are seceding from Iowa State on Friday morning in Lake LaVerne because of the de-emphasis on original thought here at Iowa State.

Elton: I’ve already gotten called by the ISU Foundation. Are they somehow under the impression that I have money or something? I have to crawl through my car for loose change whenever I want to buy lunch.

Bryan: I thought you usually just mugged frat boys.

Elton: On the other hand, the fact that more people go to college in modern times kind of necessitates a more pragmatic approach to school.

I mean, the reason people used to study liberal arts was because they were already rich, not because they didn’t care about money, and they were usually rich because they exploited people. So in a sense, you can’t complain too much about education as a commodity.

Science works this way now. Instead of doing research for the sake of research, you have to make marketable products. What ever happened to the good ol’ days when you could just try to make a monkey with five asses and not worry about who would buy one?

Bryan: I agree. Personally, I have seven asses and can’t make a dollar on even one of them. As a science guy (kind of), I think it’s a shame that the pure knowledge aspect has gone out of science. Drug companies know they only get 17 years on a patent, and the average FDA testing takes about 7.5 years, so the companies know they only have 10 years to profit. So, they need to come out with the big seller.

Think about Viagra or Prozac. If as many baby boomers had AIDS as have erectile problems, we’d already have a vaccine. Speaking of erectile problems …

Elton: Dude, no one wants to know that much about your personal life. Anyway, I don’t mean to say that I haven’t had a good time at Iowa State or anything. In spite of the priorities of the administration, education is really done at the micro level – in terms of your interactions with your professors and fellow students and stuff.

If you’re learning cool material and having good discussions in class, basically no one can take that away. And I’ve liked pretty much all of my professors and classes. So, you know, I’ve actually liked college a lot.

Bryan: Yeah, I definitely agree with you there. School is what you make of it; assuming you want to learn, you certainly can. Even at a school like this there are philosophy classes, history, pretty much anything an enlightened person could want. I guess maybe the only problem is we have to leave it now. We’ve led a pretty sheltered life, after all.

Elton: Yeah, well, for another week at least.

Elton Wong is a senior in genetics and philosophy from Ames.

Bryan Nichols is a senior in genetics from Burnsville, Minn.