Higher Education Does Not Guarantee Happiness

Dr. David Mazel
Adams State College

Be. Here. Now.
I trust you’ve driven into town from the east and seen the Adams State College billboard.
I could be wrong, but I’m guessing “Be here now” is not a clever allusion to Ram Dass’s New Age book of the same name. I’m guessing it’s a clever slogan designed to echo the billboard’s most striking visuals — the two students with what I can only describe as s**t-eating grins.
However it’s supposed to work, the billboard nicely illustrates the degree to which colleges like ASC, having been reconceived as businesses, now rely for their self-presentation on the satanic arts of advertising.
Did I just say “satanic”? My apologies. In linking advertising to Satan I mean no disrespect to the latter.
Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s not advertising but higher education that is satanic. After all, what did Satan pitch to Eve if not the value of knowledge? The value of knowledge, a tree to be desired to make one wise — why, that’s my line as well! Is Satan the patron saint of the professor?
Anyway, the billboard suggests to me that what we’re selling is not so much knowledge as happiness. Be here now, and you, too, can be cool. Brush with Colgate® and you, too, can be just as hot as the model with the gleaming white teeth. Enroll at Adams State College® and be just as happy as Happy Jack and Happy Jill there on the billboard.
Well, whatever. Advertising is what it is. But I would like to think that college, too, is what it is. And college is not about your happiness.
The real Adams State College, the place where you read books and do research and write papers and learn to examine the foundations of the received wisdom, does not consider itself bound by the happy talk of its billboards and brochures.
Maybe this place will make you happy, maybe not.
Yes, it’s possible to float through four years of college completely unperturbed by anything you learn. But it’s also possible that your education will transform you as profoundly as Adam and Eve were transformed by theirs, even without the benefit of Eden’s legendary instructor.
In college there’s no telling what might happen. The Happy Jack of our billboard might arrive here bright-eyed and grinning and basking in the love of his Awesome Lord and Savior — and then, halfway through a philosophy course, he might conclude that Nietzsche was right and God is dead.
He might take a political science course and discover that his darling Barack Obama is not The One after all, but just another lying warmonger.
He might take a neuroscience course and begin to suspect that what he thought was his soul is just a side effect of the firing of a zillion neurons. He might suspect that he’s not the free-willed agent his Sunday school teacher told him he was, but the product of forces beyond his conscious control, that in fact his consciousness itself is a product of those forces — that he’s trapped in The Matrix and there’s no telling how deep the rabbit hole goes.
All of which is to say that a college education, instead of making you happy, might make you skeptical or confused or cynical. It might leave you alienated from your friends, your parents, your church, your country, or even yourself. It might leave you bereft of the verities that once anchored your entire world, searching for new truths to replace the old ones, or for a way to live without ultimate truths at all.
It’s possible your studies will convince you that you should leave school and join the struggles of the oppressed. As an example I offer Rachel Corrie, who left Evergreen State for Gaza to join the Palestinians in their struggle against Zionism. While trying to prevent the destruction of a local Gazan family’s house, she was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer.
Education is dangerous stuff, you see — though of course we’d never say so on a billboard.That would be bad for business.

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