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I found a tap room right off campus from Penn State with enough variety and quality to slake my Northwestern thirst for beer. It was difficult to see the bartender behind the collection of tap handles, but like a bibliophile in a bookstore eschewing the store directory, I would rather peruse the taps than read the menu.
The two twenty-somethings were having one of those conversations that college kids are having in bars around the world at any given time. It's the old back and forth that never goes anywhere because it never really gets going.
"I say the improbability of God makes it unlikely that He exists," the woman was saying.
"But the fact you can't disprove His existence means that He might exist..."
I have a fairly standard argument that I can toss in on the "does God exist in the bar?" question. A slight clearing of my throat and a, "May I?" and I inserted the logical questions of recreation centers built next to a sewage treatment plant and the fact we eat, breath and vomit all through the same hole and I was "in."
But this monograph isn't about God, it's about Education.
The bartender had spent 6 years in the Navy. He helped maintain power plants aboard aircraft carriers and was struggling to get his Bachelor's at Penn State. The philosophical couple were both working on their graduate degrees in geology and were struggling with the fact that the only real place they could work to pay back their student loans was with large oil companies -- something that would require abandoning their love of the pursuit of intellectualism.
I thought the unfairness of the two extremes was blatant -- here are two people with advanced degrees so they can take jobs they don't want, and the guy serving them beer probably has had more life experience and more actual education, and he can't even get a decent paying job because he doesn't have the right kind of education.
The argument I presented at that point was much more concrete than disproving the existence of teacups in orbit. Aside from the moral bankruptcy of an education system that is actually bankrupting people, I offered to my overeducated conversationalists that their degrees are overvalued while our bartender's experience is undervalued.
Then an idea surfaced, an actual tenable idea. As I was forming my intellectual arguments I found myself saying, "Heck, they should have issued at least an Associate's degree to a guy who studies nuclear reactors, travels the world, and serves his country for six years."
And since then I've been asking myself, "Why not?" Why doesn't our armed forces produce college degrees? I mean, if DeVry or Everest can offer degrees online, and apparently fairly flimsy ones at that, why can't we help the men and women who serve our country to get the same, or preferably better, treatment?
The main answer seems to be in the same realm as the existence of God. The value of Bachelor's degrees is metaphysical -- you have to believe they're valuable. Part of that belief structure is that you "go to college." Changing that belief structure is less about legislation and more about culture.
But I believe that until we value the things people learn outside the books and lecture halls that we aren't really learning anything at all. Taprooms and battleships are excellent centers of education.