An Education: What’s the Point?

April 16, 2010 | NeW Staff

I watched An Education when it was in theaters in December with my brother.  He, being the gentleman that he is (wink, wink), let me pick the movie.   I naturally chose an artsy film instead of a shoot ‘em up movie.  But he humored me and ended up somewhat liking the movie.  

An Education is a coming of age story, and a story of the loss of innocence in 1960s England.  Jenny, a 16 year old schoolgirl with dreams of attending Oxford, meets David, a seemingly well-off man will all of life’s luxuries.  David shows Jenny a life that is new to her.  He exposes her to concerts, theatrical shows, nice clothes, and fancy dinners—all the things she longs for, but her fragile family does not partake in.  

Jenny has been striving to attend Oxford for a very long time; she plays the cello as her hobby.  She spends hours reading and studying Latin for the sole purpose of getting accepted into Oxford.  But, with the arrival of David, the suave, much older man, she questions the point in her education. David did not attend university, and he appears to be able to do everything that Jenny hopes to do when she gets through with university.  

I think that the purpose of the film is the scene in which Jenny is called into the Headmistress’ office to discuss her academic future because Jenny’s engagement to David is all the buzz of the school among the students and teachers.  The Headmistress tells Jenny her one piece of advice:  “No one does anything worth doing without a degree.”  Jenny interjects by saying, “Nobody does anything worth doing with a degree, no woman anyway.”  Headmistress Walters goes on to say, “Yes, of course, studying is hard and boring.”  “Boring.” Jenny shouts. “Studying is hard and boring.  Teaching is hard and boring, so what you are telling me is to be bored, and bored and finally bored again, but this time, for the rest of my life.  This whole stupid country is bored.  There is no life in it or color or fun. . . .My choice is to do something hard or boring or marry my. . . Jew and go to Paris and Rome and listen to jazz and read and eat good food in nice restaurants and have fun.  It is not enough to educate us, Ms. Walters.  You’ve got to tell us why you are doing it.”  She ends the conversation by telling Ms. Walters that someone else may want to know the point of it all one day.  
Jenny, point blank, asks Ms. Walters the purpose of education.  

Today, women are not usually faced with the decision of either getting an education or marrying for security.  Instead, I think that the greater purpose of the movie, that scene in particular, is to cause the audience to re-evaluate why they want to get a higher education, why they are getting a degree, or what they wanted to accomplish be achieving one.  Is there a societal complacency in education?  Do we just take it for granted?  Yes, higher education is expensive, but do we really get out of it what we put in it?  
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