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The Responsibility of the Educated


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I started reading early, and haven’t stopped since. My third grade teacher told me I should read less at recess and socialize more. I usually read about 100 pages a day, and I surely cannot imagine a world in which I do anything else with my free time. The only thing I can imagine doing with my life is reading and studying. If I could, I’d spend my whole life in school. Fortunately, I can plan on that for a while, especially if I want to get my PhD. After that, I have no idea what I want to do. I’m stuck being a professor of English, philosophy, or sociology. A professor is a noble calling. Right? Is education for education’s sake acceptable?

I truly believe that people with a higher education owe something to their community. They are equipped with the tools to improve the world and often have the connections to make it possible. This is a belief I hold dearly, but I can’t imagine myself bettering the world at all through my higher education. I’m an utter hypocrite. I’ve tried many times to make excuses for myself: how can I better the world if I have crippling social anxiety? I don’t have the social skills to improve the world. I can’t speak publicly and I have a tendency to be rude to those whose opinions I find to be of little value. For goodness sake, I don’t even care about most individuals! How am I expected to better a human race in which I can barely find a handful of people that I would want to better.

The more I consider these excuses, because that’s what they are, excuses, the flimsier they seem. I’m left with a hopelessness. If I can’t bring myself to accept a responsibility I believe should be placed on those with a higher education, do I deserve to have such an education?

The one solid excuse I’ve found is that it’s possible to do both: learn for learning’s sake and also better the world. If I spend a lifetime reading and writing and studying and perhaps teaching, have a wasted my life? Can I justify such a lifestyle by saying that I would be bettering the lives of my students and further generations? Am I so confident that whatever findings I find, be them historical, philosophical, or linguistic in nature, will be worth anything? Am I like dear old Bentham, who suggested in his will that his friends and students should meet once a year to discuss his ideas and celebrate his life? I’d like to think I have slightly more perspective than that.

While this idea that learning for selfish reasons can also benefit future generations is greatly flawed (the most obvious of those being that I would be benefiting those who need help the least: the already highly educated), it is the strongest excuse I can find for now. And until I decide I want to be an astronaut or an artist, it will have to do.  



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