24 July 2011

I'm Not Saying "Don't".

After the last two posts I made, I want to clarify a couple of things.  I don't mean to condemn all education, or even all schooling.  I know, as all of you surely know, that, for example, you can't become a teacher, engineer or doctor without the appropriate training and credentials.  And there are many other jobs for which you won't be seriously considered--or considered at all--if you don't have a degree of some sort.

And I don't mean to denigrate the pursuit of knowledge.  There is value--apart from career considerations--in studying literature, history, mathematics and other seemingly abstruse subjects.  Sometimes those studies confer unexpected benefits in the job markets:  For example, tech companies sometimes hire philosophy majors because of their training in logic.  

What I want prospective students and their families to do is to understand what more schooling can and can't do for them.  Yes, if you take challenging courses and professors, and continue the work after the classes are over, you can become a better-rounded person.  And, if you are an engaged and engaging person, you can make some valuable contacts while in school.  

I also want to add that even though I've had some exasperating, frustrating and infuriating experiences, I am glad that I have spent a considerable part of my life teaching at the college level.  While not as remunerative as some of the other things I did before, there have been times when it was satisfying in ways that my work in the corporate world never could have been.  

That said, though, I probably wouldn't choose the same path today, as I told one of my former students.  Part of that has to do with the difficulty I've had in getting permanent full-time employment in academia.  But I have also come to understand the limits my schooling has placed on me, and some of the limits I--sometimes unwittingly--placed on myself in order to fit into the social milieux in which I've worked.   

Plus, I've come to realize that what anyone learns in school--no matter how much time should he or she spends in it--should be only the beginning of his or her education.  Learning history or literature or science from your teachers and professors can be interesting and useful.  But it is only one experience, one facet, of those subjects.  And--contrary to what we see in graduate school--it doesn't exist in isolation from the world.  The great writers, artists and scientists of this world all got their cues from the world around them; had they depended on graduate seminars for their knowledge, they never could have done the things we study in those seminars.

So...If you're going to spend more time in school, make sure you're doing so for very clear reasons you've come up with on your own, with no pressures from family, friends or guidance counselors.  And, of course, realize that if you endebt yourself to do it, you're going to be required to pay it somehow.  That sounds like common sense, but that is often the first casualty of being in the cocoon of academia.


  1. Excellent piece. It's not a good idea to attend college in an attempt "to find oneself," especially with tuition being as high as it is. Students need a clear-cut plan from day 1 that addresses the following questions:

    - Is this school the right choice for me? Can I attend a cheaper school and get the same benefits?

    - Will my course of study lead to employment which can pay for my expenses?

    - Do I possess the discipline to complete a 4 year program?

    There are more but that's all I can think of for now.

  2. No. You do mean to say, "Don't" - as in don't buy this particularly over-priced commodity.

    Education has nothing to do with education, if you get my meaning.

  3. Turde--I agree with you. Anyone who attends college to find him or her self--particularly if he or she has just graduated high school or, for whatever reasons, has never had to ask any serious questions about his or her life--is easy prey for a prof or dean who's forceful or charismatic, or on whom the student has a crush.

    Anon: I like to distinguish between "education" with a lower-case "e" and "Education" with an upper-case "E." The latter can get in the way of the former.