I walked into UCR’s California Museum of Photography to see the Gary Winogrand show, expecting that the $3 entrance charge had been upgraded to $5 or so. It had been some time since I last went to the museum, because there hadn’t been anything that I particularly wanted to see, and I thought I had probably seen all of the prints by Ansel Adams that the museum had.
I walked up to the front desk and asked the young man behind it, “What is the entrance fee, now?”
“Three dollars.” he replied.
“Oh, good.” The fee hadn’t gone up. I fished for one dollar bills in my wallet.
“Are you a student?”
“Of course.” I answered. “I learn something every day.”
He looked at me blankly. It was obvious that he had no glimmer of my meaning.
“If you aren’t learning all of the time, there’s no point to being here. You might as well move right on to your next lifetime.”
He smiled slightly. “But are you a student?”
Ah, I thought. This is University speak. The question is really are you paying the university large amounts of money. It has little connection to the educational reality. It is only concerned with whether I am impoverishing myself to support the higher education industry. “No. Not in the way you mean.”, I said. I didn’t think to ask if there was a Senior discount.
I got my receipt and a sticker that allowed me entrance and wandered up to the third floor to view and take a few snapshots of Gary Winogrand’s Women Are Beautiful. It was worth the $3. I may have even made a couple bucks on it, because I received at least $5 of enjoyment from the experience.
On my way out of the building I took a tour of the first floor’s ongoing vintage camera display. The museum has over 10,000 cameras which are rotated in and out of the display. There were a number of Twin Lens Reflex cameras on display that day. I would like to own a couple of the examples shown, but I doubt that they’d take the place of my beloved Yashica Mat 124.
Out in the direct sunlight, I thought about the always-goofy question are you a student? The institutions and subscribers of the modern higher education system give it an importance far beyond what it is really due. It does help turn out some brilliant individuals and innovators, but those people’s achievements are not the result of obtaining a Bachelor’s, Masters, or Doctorate. At best, four or even six or seven years in the university is only a slight augmentation of the abilities that those people possessed long before entering the system.
It is deplorable, really. Today’s Bachelor’s degree is, on average, equivalent to a tenth grade high school education in 1970. Both are just starting points. The starting points from which one constantly adds new knowledge. It is not only deplorable, but also sad that the devolution of the higher education system is not universally recognized.