Friday, July 16, 2010

"Then, one day, you find / 10 years have got behind you / No one told you when to run / You missed the starting gun"

In response to this post on Gnomesque's blog:

I used to think that all smart people go to university. On some level, I think I still do. Every couple of days when I'm working I'll have this thought: "If 10 years ago I had thought about the life of a person who gets mediocre marks in college and cleans the bathrooms as a part-part-part time job, I think I might have considered it a fate worse than death". And yet here I am, now embodying the nightmare-closet visions of Future Binkley from Bloom County (and we don't even have self-tying shoelaces yet!) least in part.

Do I think I went to University for the wrong reasons? Yes. No. I think I went to University with the wrong mindset. I didn't work very hard in my last years of high school. I didn't actually do any research on what university would be best suited for me. Frankly, I didn't have the marks to get into the kind of program I was really interested in doing*, and so what was the point, anyhow? Even coming to Dal, I didn't really look into what it was renowned for. In the end, one big university turns out to be just like another. Carleton and Dalhousie did not feel substantially different, at least not at the undergraduate level.

I haven't read More Money Than Brains, so my understanding of the author's arguments will be limited. I don't think Engineering belongs in a college system just because "Engineer" is a career choice. I think that's a little ridiculous. What about "Historian"? That's a career, too. Is it that the Engineer will probably make more money? I don't think that makes it any more of a trade and any less of an intellectual endeavor. Is the idea that only those interested in "Academia" should go to university? Because that's not only its own career path, it's also potentially quite lucrative. I even think that if universities only existed to train their future faculties that would end up being a little bit circular. I'm not sure I understand the reason for this distinction.

Sillier still is to object to the idea of a university education as a monetary investment. Dare I ask why it's intelligent to spend thousands of dollars per year without some reasonable assurance that you'll be able to pay your way back out of the hole on the other end? What is this ridiculous scholar-figure who pays money to study just because he or she wants to learn? The OpenCourseWare Consortium and movements like it exist precisely to provide learning materials at no cost, but - of course - they don't come with a degree. And if you only want to learn for the sake of learning, why do you need the piece of paper? Ego? Or, more likely, because no one will hire you for an intellectually demanding job without one, unless the social aspect of university is so difficult to duplicate that the thousands of dollars of debt are worth it and the piece of paper that multiplies your value possibly tenfold is just a "side benefit".

People with university degrees make a lot more in a lifetime than those without, generally speaking. As long as this fact remains true, the rhetoric of "learning for learning's sake" seems to ring pretty hollow in my ears. But what would I know? I'm just a bitter dropout who couldn't write an essay to save his grades.

PS. I sometimes get the question "why are you ashamed of going to College?" (really just from ELI and Etarran). Now you know.

1 comment:

Daydream Believer said...

Yearly salary of a municipally employed Zamboni driver: nearly $50,000 plus benefits. Requirements: Grade 10 completion and G class driver's license.

I don't know for sure, but I'd bet decent money that I won't make that my first year out of University, degree in hand. Never mind that I could've been making it since before my 17th birthday.

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