renaissance man

Have we lost the pursuit of meaning in our education?


"As tuition sky rockerts and a college degree is seen as a ticket to economic stability, many people today consider education to be instrumental - a step toward a job rather than an opportunity for moral and intellectual growth. The American Freshman survey has tracked the values of college students since the mid-1960s. In the late sixties, the top priority of college freshman was 'developing a meaningful life philosophy.' Nearly all of them - 86 percent - said this was an 'essential' or 'very important' life goal. By the 2000s, their top priority became 'being very well off financially' While just 40 percent said meaning was their chief goal. Of course, most students still have a strong yearning for meaning. But that search no longer drives their educations." - Emily Esfahan Smith, The Power of Meaning

So, what happened? 

In the 60s, students viewed a college education as a means of discovery. To find their own meaning in life, their own philosophy to live by. But over the past few decades, we have slowly moved further and further away from meaning, and closer to the need for financial security. 

It seems that students no longer learn how to live life in college, but instead are forced to pick and learn a specialized skill to earn a quality living. 

This isn't to say that earning a living isn't essential. It is completely essential to all of our lives. But is it the most essential component to our greater wellbeing?

Are we sacrificing our happiness by choosing a career simply for monetary values, rather than taking the time for discovery that students once valued so highly? 

It seems to me that over the decades we have traded meaning for security. 

Students have lost their sense of freedom to explore in college, and are instead pressured to choose a single direction. And to choose it quickly. 

I can say this from my own experience. It took me well into my junior year to declare a major. Having attended a liberal arts college, I was able to take classes from varying subjects and developed a love for art, history, writing, anthropology, psychology, education, and many more. 

It was impossible to decide on one thing. Art had always been in the back of my mind, even before entering college, but upon completing courses in areas I had never heard of, a new world of possibilities and knowledge was opened to me. 

Ultimately my decision came down to art - being the only major I had enough credits in at the time to finish a degree in four years. From that point on, my discovering period of new subjects and fields was over. I was told to direct my attention to one subject, and one subject only. From that point on, I lost some of my fire for learning. 

It took my many years after college to realize that there was no reason for me to stop learning. My curiosity and discovery into these other fields did not need to cease because I had majored in a single subject. I was not sentenced to a career life in only art due to my art degree. 

I can see now in reflection that the early years of my college carerr started a discovery period into my greater meaning in life. I was enthusiastically trying new things; Finding strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. But after long the fairytale came to an end when the pressures of education standards set in. 

I can only image how many others have felt the same as I had. A vigor to discover, stifled by a greater force to choose one path moving forward. 

It seems to me that in decades past there was a greater flexibility towards discovery than we have now. 

Even going as far back as the Renaissance. There is a reason we all still know the term -- Rennisance Man. Today we define a Renaissance Man as a person with many talents or areas of knowledge.

There were many that fell into this category throughout the Renaissance period. One of the most famous being Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci was often referred to as a man with "unquenchable curisoity." 

Unquenchable curisoity. I absolutely love that every time I hear it. Brilliant, curious minds like his followed the idea of a more universal education; studying various subjects and mastering varying crafts. 

Today it is far and few between that we use the term Renaissance Man to describe an individual. And if we do, it rarely holds the weight that it once did. We have somewhat lost the freedom to become a Renaissance Man in our own right. 

With rising education costs, and a constant push for specialization, very few people are able to study various subjects or master varying skills throughout their life time.

Because of this, brilliant and curious minds like Leonardo da Vinci are stifled by societal pressures. 

So how can more of us reach towards a more modern ideal of the Renaissance mentality? 

First, remember that if you are like most, and can not afford beyond a single education, you are by no means stuck. In today's technologically adnvaced society, we have endless knowledge at our finger tips. Today you can learn virtually anything outside of the classroom setting. 

For myself, I started with an education in art, and quickly became bored after leaving college. After a time of feeling stuck, I realized that I was in full control of my own search for greater meaning and knowledge. 

If you have a curiosity, follow it. Pursue it Individually. There is no one stopping you from teaching yourself, and creating your own individualized life enducation. 

Our education system is failing young adults when it comes to their path to meaning and greater purpose. So the responsibility falls on the individual. We are never stuck. We can change our mindset to reflect that every day life is at our constant disposal for further education. 

Every day we wake up to a vast classroom, ready and willing for us to reap new discoveries, feed our curisities and fuel our inner hunger for further knowledge. 

Take control of your learning. Our modern society needs some more Renaissance Men to fuel our path forward...