It is easy to find reasons to get an education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that people who obtain only a high school diploma earn, on average, about $679 per week if employed full time. An associate’s degree increases that average to $782 per week, a bachelor’s degree to $1,155, and an advanced degree to about $1,435. Of course averages don’t tell the whole story, but the trend is obvious: most of us make more money if we get more education.
There are other compelling reasons to stay in school, too. Many people want to join professions where degrees are required and perform work that appeals to one’s mental capabilities and talents. We tend to take for granted the notion that the opportunity to advance through higher education is open to anyone who studies hard enough — and has the money to pay the tuition.
In some parts of the world, however, that isn’t the case. For girls particularly, education is not only seen as optional but can even be illegal. Families are frequently threatened with death or exile, and girls themselves have been targeted for attempting to educate themselves. Even here in America there are cultural limits placed on some young people’s futures.
Whether through choice, support, or lack thereof, every student has decisions to make regarding his education and his work life. The importance of education is equal to the influence that work will yield over quality of life in terms of finances, time, satisfaction, status, and freedom. Whether the goal is professional or nonprofessional, education of some kind is simply necessary.
The six TED Talks collected here help make that point on six different levels. Some are from familiar figures; others are people whose stories are new but memorable. Students may find them helpful to put things in perspective.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama is at her eloquent best in telling her story of rising from a working-class background to becoming a lawyer and eventually the first African-American First Lady of the United States. Acknowledging her supportive parents and solid family values, she tells a group of British students how she always liked making As and encourages them as future leaders. If this doesn’t make you want to go to college, what will? Finally, it’s cool to be smart!
In this Ted Talk, Shabana Basij-Rasikh describes life under the Taliban and how going to school was literally dangerous for girls in Afghanistan. If you’ve been thinking about cutting class because it’s boring, then imagine risking your life to create a class because someone decided you weren’t worth educating. This young woman and her family risked their lives because her father believed “there was a greater risk in not educating his children.”
In this meaningful presentation, Nadia Lopez describes her school that she opened in Brownsville, a gang-infested neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. She believes her students are all scholars because they are lifelong learners despite living in a world of violence and impossibilities. They have gone from wondering if they will see their 18th birthdays to believing they can attend the colleges of their choice. With her help, it’s starting to happen. Watch this Talk and believe in the power of education.
John McWhorter, a linguist and Columbia professor, persuades passionately that everyone should learn a foreign language. Learning to communicate with new syntax and vocabulary is good for the brain, but it’s also just plain fun. It is also a ticket to participation in a new culture, which will broaden most people’s world view and help us celebrate what’s different and what’s pretty much the same all over. We could probably extrapolate this idea of learning something new to include musical instruments, a sport, a branch of science, or anything else. And it’s never been easier than now.
David Lee talks about the realities of mechanization and how many jobs will be lost over the next few decades. Fear not, though, because we will always need people to develop creative solutions to problems. Luckily for us, that’s a lot more fun anyway. You may not be managing widget makers, but you just might get to take your Saturday self to work and do a whole lot more.
Part of learning to define the importance of education and work is to question what really is important to you. Should you follow your passion? Have we declared war on work? According to Mike Rowe, we have marginalized manual labor as the work you get stuck with and that most of us shouldn’t even want to do. He argues that “dirty” and “clean” aren’t opposites — just two sides of the same coin. With community college being a viable option for a lot of people, maybe it’s time to rethink what we really want from our work lives.
Whether education seems like a dream or a chore, a right or a risk, it is definitely worth deep consideration. The consequences of abdicating a choice are too great. Education will, in large part, define one’s financial life, free time, and overall personal satisfaction. Watch these Ted Talks. Think about what school and skills really matter most. Then dream your biggest dreams — and get to class!