“The real value of a real education… has almost nothing


The real value of a real education… has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: ‘This is water. This is water.’” 

-David Foster Wallace

What is the purpose of a college education? This has been and will continue to be, one of the fundamental questions facing the future of higher education. 

In an article for the New York Times, philosophy professor Kwame Anthony Appiah offers us two models: Is it “utilitarian”- to prepare students for a particular job or career path, or is it “utopian”- shaping students’ character and values to prepare them not just to be good workers, but also good thinkers, good citizens, and positive contributors to our local, national, and global societies?  

In this module, we learned a lot about the value of general education skills, like writing, ethical reasoning, and quantitative reasoning, for students’ current and future career paths. Excelsior’s general education career competencies even include “career” right in the title to emphasize their utilitarian value. But is that the only value of general education? Is that the only value of an education in general? 

Begin by reading Appiah’s article The College Crossroads (Links to an external site.). Then view this excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s famous commencement speech “This Is Water” given in 2005 at Kenyon College.

Mosley, CD. (2013). This is Water! by David Foster Wallace (Links to an external site.). YouTube. [Video: 9:22 minutes]. Transcripts. Download Transcripts.

Discussion Instructions

Initial post: Then, by Thursday of Module 5, create an initial post that responds to each of the prompts below: 

  • What do you believe the true purpose of a college education is today? What do you think it will be in the future? 
  • Do you believe colleges have a responsibility to teach concepts like “global understanding” and “cultural diversity and expression”? Why or why not? 
  • If you have already completed some of your general education requirements, what did you take away from the experience? If you have some left to complete, what do you hope to get out of general education at Excelsior?

Your post should include at least one outside source (and an accompanying citation) to support your points.

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