Menand Versus Mettel

Education remains one of the most discussed topics in today’s day and age for a valid reason – because education is fundamental to today’s society. Louis Menand, a college professor analyzes three theories as to what people should be getting out of higher education. Theory one proposes that college is a sorting mechanism; once there, grades will dictate how successful and intelligent you are. Theory two suggests that higher education is teaching students how to live in the real world whether it is doing finance or trying to raise a child. Finally, theory three states that the purpose of college is to produce workers. In my opinion, there are flaws in all of these theories. I will formulate my own theory after discussing why I disagree with Louis Menand.

Theory one is what most people follow, as it is what is embraced by society. However, grades and test scores should not dictate how successful one is. Everyday more and more people realize that standardized testing is an unfair way of testing someone’s knowledge and that it should not dictate where one goes to college. This can be seen through the fact that over 160 colleges do not require standardized test scores. This is a list of all the colleges in the United States that are test-optional: Optional-Schools-in-U.S.News-Top-Tiers ACT-SAT-Annual-Test-Takers-Chart ( Also, college is a very distracting place with several opportunities to do activities that are not related to schoolwork. If someone decided to go to a frat party the night before an exam, they will not receive a lower grade than someone because they are less intelligent, but because they decided to socialize rather than work.

When Louis Menand is discussing theory one, he states, “College is, essentially, a four-year intelligence test…it’s important, therefore, that everyone is taking more or less the same test.” However, no one is taking the same test because everyone is different; everyone’s brain operates differently. This comic emphasizes this point (Albert Einstein came up with the words that are italicized).



I have the largest issue with Menand’s second theory of higher education preparing you for the real world, for a couple of reasons. First off, I would agree with Menand if he were saying that the social aspect of college enhances someone’s real life experience. However, the educational aspect of college does not teach students how to live in the real world; it teaches students about certain subjects. The majority of classes at the University of Michigan do not help me in the real world, but rather help me better understand a certain subject. This is partially due to the way that the education system is designed in that there is not enough hands on experience. Everything you do in college is similar to being in a bubble because nothing prepares you for real life, except real life. Dr. Leonard Arvi, an Assistant Professor of Finance at Salisbury University, reiterates this in an article for a local ABC TV network (Are Colleges Preparing Students For the Real World?).

Furthermore, Menand’s last theory states that the purpose of college is to produce workers. This confuses me because sitting down and listening to a lecture, writing a paper, or taking an exam, does not produce workers. Rather, it produces knowledge about a certain subject. The majority of U.S. workers believe that their job does not require a degree. This can be shown through this chart:



Also, one may devote all their time to a certain subject and not even get a job in that field. This can shown through this image:



In my opinion, the purpose of higher education is to increase an individual’s knowledge about certain subjects, while developing social skills that allow you to apply that knowledge to certain subjects. This will in turn allow you to succeed in life. Often times people believe that being smart, which people sadly define as getting good grades, will allow you to be successful. However, social skills are what can really be applied to life.

All in all, some components of Menand’s theories do make sense, but I do not agree with their other elements. Menand gets it wrong when he focuses on college as a training environment for specific knowledge rather than a place where you learn to interact with the people who will be important in your future life. This could mostly be true because I am writing in the point of view of a student and not a professor. Students see college as important for interacting with their peers, whereas professors see college as important for students to learn what is being taught. Menand states that what you learn determines large portions of your life, when really what you do with others is equally if not more significant.

-Zach Mettel