24 April 2012

Kearl-ing: The End(s) of An Education

The last part of Professor Kearl’s final lecture focused on the ultimate purposes or ends of a college education.  In the language of economics, Kearl said, a university has competitive advantages in only three areas: developing analytical, writing, and quantitative skills (and to a degree, “aesthetic sensibilities” if you’re lucky).  That’s it.  Sure, universities do a lot of other things—athletics, and clubs, and social functions—but there are other organizations better suited to those ends.  At its heart a college education is the training of one’s brain to analyze, compute, and communicate, to develop one into a quickly trainable and retrainable fungible asset in an ever-changing world.

And so, Kearl continued, the quality of your education depends on you, and not on BYU.  At any number of universities you can get either a Mickey Mouse diploma or an Ivy League education, depending on the classes you take and the effort you put in.  It is your job to take on the disciplined training of your brain through consistent hard effort.  (This may have been the part of the lecture that stuck with me most over these past 8 years.  I felt compelled to take a full 18 credits each semester because it.)  

Finally, Kearl said that you will have cheated yourself if you leave school with a vocation, but not an avocation—with job skills but not leisure skills.  The work week is at 40 hours and dropping steadily; the vast majority of our lives will be spent in non-work settings.  What then, Kearl asked, will you do with the lion’s share of your life?  Because you are capable of far more than spending it in front of the TV.

He continued: You should come out of school with two great loves, and only one of those can be a spouse.  Your second love can be any number of things—literature, or music, or calculus, or science.  For Dr. Kearl, it was Gothic architecture.  As he described his personal “pilgrimage” to the Cathedral of Chartres, it was clear that it was a—if not the—highlight of his life. (For me, this was fitting because when I was in the throes of his extremely difficult Econ 110 class, I had a nightmare in which Kearl was Archdeacon Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Apropos, non?)  We should all be so fortunate to find something for which we are equally passionate.

The other day, my buddy Tigg was quoting a comedian who said: “I wish I loved anything as much as my kids love bubbles.”  I have some vague notions about my “bubbles”—my Chartres— but I feel like I have a ways to go on that particular pilgrimage.  And so as I leave college for the second time, secure in my employment, I find myself echoing Kearl’s question: To what will I dedicate the vast majority of my life? 


Mars said...

Kearl lectures have more surprise twists than a M. Night Shamalamadingdong movie!

Ry said...

Russ, THANK YOU for documenting Kearl's final lecture! I have been thinking about it lately (I think I heard it 12 years ago) and when I looked it up, Google brought me here. The line I remember was on donating to good causes: "If you wait to give until you're rich enough, you'll never be rich enough to give." Or something along those lines. Anyway, it was great to revisit the rest of it. Thanks again.