The Price May Not Be Right - Is College Worth It?

8 years ago

My mother wanted me to get a job. I am fairly certain of this because when she got pissed off at me or my siblings she reminded us that when we were old enough we were to get a job and then get the hell out.

Other relatives also reinforced the message that I should work hard, graduate and then get a job to help out my mother. It was what they believed to be true. I knew that my mother felt that 12 years of schooling was more than enough. It would have been tolerable if I had decided to go to a trade school; which in those days it would have required attendance at night school to learn how to be a secretary.

I wanted to go to college. I wanted an education.

Maybe my mother felt that it was a waste of time. Perhaps she was protecting me in not allowing me to dream past the practical. Perhaps my mother was protecting me from what she believed to be institutional blocks of class and race.

I don’t know. We never talked about it. My mother did not stop me from attending college. She also did not support or encourage my efforts. I was on my own in figuring out how to get into college and how to finance my education.

You see, I was paying attention to what my mother and relatives communicated. I saw how hard it was for her to raise a family on almost minimum wages. Being exhausted and underpaid does not inspire maternal June Clever warm and fuzzy behavior. It was hard. Some days it was too much to bear without anger or tears.

I worked part-time as a teen. I knew crappy jobs. I specialized in crappy jobs like the restaurant owner who did not believe in hot water. Part of my day was spent washing dishes in that joint. In winter.

I didn’t last long.

There were other jobs that cringe in memory. The people with “good jobs” who were miserable, cranky and about to go psycho at the least variation of their carefully constructed empire of cubicle power dictates.

Yet the mantra was graduate high school, get a good job.

I did not have illusions about going off to an educational Disneyland. I wanted to go someplace where people wanted to talk and think about the big questions.

I listened to the voice within. I went off to college. I struggled through disappointment. It seemed like a sped up version of high school. Teachers talking and I was stuck listening: some times to a fool. Occasionally there would be inspired exchanges but routinely I was bored.

It did not matter that I worked as I attended college. The rank troopers like Pepper and Skippy did teach me that there was an educational inequality in our respective public school education.

They taught me that the meritocracy they spoke of wrapped around their necks like a shield might have been their parents’ money and not necessarily any effort they specifically had put forth toward their education.

I did much better with the campus activities and groups. The school radio station, a community silk screen art center, or volunteering. My grade were ok. I just wasn’t good at being a student drone.

The days leading to my dropping out were filled with a counselor trying to tell me discretely tell me that not everybody is cut out for college, perhaps a trade school would be better. A instructor, who did not want female students in his class, did his best to purged out as many as he could.

I took longer than most of my class but I dropped out of formal education and created my own. I eventually found the right schools that actually meant what they said about education and dropped back into the fold, on my terms.

Why Am I Telling You This?

I feel the current debate about education is centered on vending machine outcomes. Not what a specific person needs at a given place and time. We are so locked into the mantra of if you follow a directed path you will get a perfect result and ipso facto a perfect life.

Life really doesn’t work that way. How many recovering lawyers do you know?

There are a range of educational options, not absolutes. The goal of education to me is to provide as much life flexibility as you can acquire. It is the ability to have as many choices as possible to support your life.

Let me give you an example.

When word processing classified ads started to replace traditional clerical work I understood in an instant I needed to secure a new level of job skills. When the opportunity came for free training there were people that refused; they didn’t want to learn anything new.

Two years later they were out of work or forced to catch up. Flexibility.

When I returned to college I knew what I would and would not accept in terms of instruction and access to opportunities. I asked questions and snooped around the place in dependent. I researched what I wanted to learn and would the school get me as close to the goal as possible for what I was able to pay.

I made decisions of what I wanted to learn and locating resources both on and off campus that would fill my need to know and understand about the world I live.

The truth is I have been an Edupunk even before there was punk music. In a future post I’ll talk more about the Do It Yourself /Open Education movement.

Let me be clear, I am not saying don’t go to college. I am saying it is ok to think about options and alternative paths that are right for you at this point in your life. This includes you Dusties who have always wanted to go back and get it done.

Other Voices

Fellow CE Leslie Madson Brooks wrote an open letter to parents and future students that ask everyone involved to truly understand the reason for attending college.

NPR’s radio program The Take A Way interviews Anya Kamenetz author of DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education

For a faith based perspective on the road to college there is Mommy Life’s post is college for everyone?

Barbara at Roaming Writers asks Is College Necessary?

Karen Burns at Working Girl also has a post on Is College Worth It?

Gena Haskett is a BlogHer CE. Blogs:Out On The Stoop and Create Video Notebook

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