As college closes, I want to explain what it meant to me. As a graduating senior, I can reduce my college education to two precepts: admit your ignorance unyieldingly and evaluate every claim for yourself. These two instructions seem to me the most important knowledge to carry into the world with a new diploma.
Though college graduates boast sharp intellects, the sharpest know the limits of their knowledge. Recognizing the diversity of world views, and the vast improbability that your own personal world view is correct or even better than others, is a mark of education.
While this education aids in increasing human understanding, it should also help prevent understandings based in falsehood. Dispelling claims covering topics beyond human means to study should be imperative for any person holding truth in high regard. Ignorance is nothing to hide. Rather, ignorance affords the opportunity to put researching skills to work.
The world outside of college is filled with ideologies, and pressure to accept one of these ideologies overwhelms most. This results in a lack of critical thinking on a mass scale, leading to an imbalanced concentration of power. This great power, the power to shape what people think, rests in the hands of “isms,” armies and institutions who manufacture ‘belief systems’ promoting intolerance and violence.
The only sure defense against these is a commitment to evaluating every claim about the world individually. Believing any claim based on insufficient evidence is unnecessary. Simply gathering the data and applying your own mental faculties leads to vastly more egalitarian positions than those resulting from any dogma or doctrine.
Without these two points, college may have lead down a familiar sedentary path. Yet more and more, society chooses to respect institutional imperatives over the rights of human beings. From churches to governments, fundamentalist thinking contributes to suffering across the world. If you leave college without understanding the importance of placing the welfare of humans above the mandates of any organization, then what exactly did college mean?