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by Virginia Heffernan
I first started noticing it about a year ago: My ‘90s college education is nearly obsolete.
I can tell when I talk to Silicon Valley types brimming with resources and well-being and wisdom. They have never heard of Harold Bloom or dialectical materialism or the Oxford English Dictionary. Americans are thriving without even passing acquaintance with the totems I once thought you had to master before you could amount to anything in America.
Mention collegey topics in tech circles—the Bible as literature, say, or symbolic anthropology—and they look at you with appalled sympathy, like those haughty Genius Bar people. You’re still running iOS 5?!
And that’s what got me thinking. Imagine if it completely didn’t matter where—or whether—you went to college. And where or whether your children went.
Allow yourself, for now, to hold that idea in your head.
In this world, it would still matter, same as it always has, whether you can read, write, be compassionate and grateful, code, assemble Ikea furniture, dilate on current events and history, exhibit self-control, navigate, meditate, make friends and sleep well when you want to.
The skills of our modern world would still be necessary. And by that I mean that, if you found yourself deficient in one of these areas, you’d have to either learn (school of hard knocks, church, YouTube), or compensate (audiobooks for reading, Craigslist for Ikea-assembly, GPS for navigation).
But at the same time it would be utterly meaningless—like just shy of pure gobbledygook—to say, ever, “But I went to Groton and Swarthmore! Cranbrook and Stanford! Darlington and Auburn! Crossroads and USC! St. Mary’s and Miami-Dade!”
In young adulthood, you’d make friends, acquaintances and misspent-youth memories in the workplace, online and in service to community, cause and country. That’s where you’d also acquire polish, a work ethic and a conscience.
You’d bring glory or ignominy to your family the old-fashioned way: through your contributions to society and your interactions with your fellows. The glory/ignominy die would not be cast when you were 17, by a letter of admission or rejection. Imagine.