Monday, February 06, 2006

Lifetime Students

My thoughts on my higher education confuse me. For one thing, I made some very good friends at college. I met my girlfriend there. Finally getting a degree (after dropping out twice) DID, whether I like it or not, open up doors (even if just a crack) that were not open to me before.

But I would NEVER, under any circumstances whatsoever, go through it again.

I absolutely hated going to class. I enjoyed doing papers and reading the course materials, but class seemed, to me, like a complete waste of time. Now, admittedly, this may have been due to the fact that during college I started to develop the impression that the vast majority of my fellow students did not care one iota about their education, which led me to believe I could learn a lot more by myself.

Was this impression unfair? Perhaps. But I can say that in the classes I attended, the most vocal students did not do the required reading. This meant they were already behind while dictating the direction of discussions. The professors did nothing whatsoever to stop this, perhaps believing that aimless ramblings may, by accident, lead to hidden truth.

Perhaps finding some hidden truth would have been possible if it wasn't the same discussion, every day, in every class. And perhaps my major had a lot to do with it... after all, there is a high degree of subjectivity in the act of reading.

At any rate, I just don't understand people who are capable... nay... WANT to go to grad school. I date a girl who went to law school for three years after we both finished undergrad... as if dating me wasn't evidence enough, this proves definitively that she is insane. I would rather have my fingernails pulled out one by one and inserted under my eyelids than go back to school. I don't know how people do it.

While browsing Cross Thoughts, I saw a link to a fascinating article regarding the economics of higher education, specifically at the Ph.D. level, which reemphasized a lot of things I think of when people my age tell me they are going to "go back to school". To quote the article:

Ph.D. students are a lot like gamblers. They expect to beat the odds. The gambler personifies odds-beating as Lady Luck. The Ph.D. student instead looks within. "I am really smart. These other people in the program aren't as smart as I am. I will get that tenure-track job. I will make the cut. I will be a beneficiary of the system."

Could this be it? Do people really believe that more and more school will provide them with more opportunity?

Don't get me wrong. I know people who are going back to school for the right reasons. Some people really ARE interested in their studies, and feel that engaging academia by themselves is not enough. There are probably some really cool classes out there with people serious about what they're doing.

But, for too many people my age, "I'm going back to school" means "I'm too lazy to keep a job". These folks seem incapable of understanding that they're unlikely to get their dream job immediately after they graduate. They seem incapable of understanding that their first couple of jobs are going to, in all likelihood, have terrible hours, terrible pay, and terrible benefits. Not only that, hundreds of applications are going to be required before they can even land THAT job.

But isn't that the way it should be? You have to prove you can handle the baby food before you get the steak.


The Uber Dude said...

I'm case in point, with my heart set on my Ph.D... But in the end, what matters most to me is that I enjoy what I've set my life to the study of. My goal is not to make a bazillion dollars...if that's what was important to me, I picked the wrong damn subject (Anthropolgy isn't exactly a cash cow)...if I was interested in ROI, I definitely woulda ended up in Law, Medicine, or Engineering. But I didn't want to spend my life in a cubicle, subjugated to an institution that doesn't value your intellectual curiosity as much as it does the bottom line.

LastBestAngryMan said...

Most professors are, in fact, shackled to an institution that doesn't value their intellectual curiousity so much as their institutional loyalty and willingness to toe the 'party line,' as it were. Sorry to rain on the parade, but as someone in grad school (for the second time, no less) I harbor no illusions about the beautiful freedom of the academy. It's much more limited than you might think.

Sure, that might sound odd from someone in grad school, but then, what I'm pursuing is the LEAST commercially viable terminal degree you can get in the USA; the MFA in Creative Writing. I'm okay with the fact that it's not likely to make me rich. I'm not trying to get rich. I'm not after some beautiful Socratic vision of unfettered inquiry, because I know it doesn't exist (trust me; I didn't 'toe the party line' while getting my MA and I paid for it).

Then why am I doing this? Because I am incapable of doing anything besides trying to be a poet, and getting the MFA will help me do that. And I realize I'll start out at Junior Central Community Technical Podunk State College teaching comp. as an adjunct. I've made peace with that, because I have to believe that all I need is a foot in the door. If that makes me a gambler, fine.

Dan Cross said...

To those who have written in response, I admire you're courage. You are "following your bliss", and it seems you are doing it without dragging anyone down with you. I have less admiration for those who deliberately follow careers that could not possibly support a family but promise the world to their betrothed. In those cases, ROI matters more than anything else. Anything less in such a situation is pure selifhness, and a terrible gamble to take with the lives of others.

Dan Cross said...

That should be "your" not "you're", damn it! I hate that I can't edit my own posts later.

robustyoungsoul said...

Hey everybody, look! That guy mispelled a word! I say we judge him.

LastBestAngryMan said...

I judge you! I judge you! You are a failure! A failure for mispelling a word and taking an entire minute to recognize it and post a correction!!

Really, the fact that you even know the difference between "your" and "you're" sets you apart from about 99% of the people using this here inter-web.

chornbe said...

Maybe it's just because I didn't do the college thing... maybe it's just because I've been professionally employed since the age of 13... maybe it's because that, thanks to situations at home when I was a mild (hah!) fresh-faced teen that I had to grow up fairly quickly... but whatever the reason, I never thought the idea of going to college immediately after high school was such a great idea.

So many people go to college after being told, or telling themselves "how it will be". How many kids do you know who went to school to follow mommy or daddy's footsteps in a field where they really had no interest. Maybe that's more of an ivy league thing, I dunno. How many people do you know who switch majors like flipping a coin?

I've always been more of a student of life and the human condition, than that of the book - whichever book it may be.

Too many people get a degree in a field that is not only terribly helpful in when they end up doing for real, but might actually be a complete waste of time and money as an achievement.

The good news, I guess, is that college is *supposed* to help you further your own learning and research skills and *supposedly* nearly *any* graduated college student *should* be able to work themselves into just about any field, job or what have you.

I can name on one hand... maybe two... the number of self-starting, free thinking, motivated college students who I would choose over someone with life experience.

I see too many people asking for the fish with no interest in how the fishing net works. Not interest and no ability... more accurately, no desire... to learn.

It's sad.

chornbe said...

I'm with Dan - a damnation and plague on your non-editable comment software!! A DAMNATION AND PLAGUE!