5.19.2009

College: Why I Haven't Gone

Most of the time I don't regret my decision to indefinitely postpone attending college.

Being the sort of person who would do geeky things like attempt to study four languages at once or work through most of a night trying to unravel the secrets of literature, it still surprises me a bit that I never took all that interest in knowledge and understanding to extensive formal schooling. There are times when I've really wished for the experience, especially in the presence of the glorious buildings full of books. I still firmly believe that I made the right choice.

Deciding to wait, with the full expectation that "later" might well mean "never", was not easy. I made that decision for several reasons:

1. I already had a good job.

YD did for me some of what college might have done, in that it took the shy, awkward little homeschooled farm girl and made her get out of herself a bit. I wound up guiding boats full of teenagers through class III-IV whitewater, rappelling off cliffs, and (particularly terrifying) answering telephones. It's hard to imagine assigned community projects making the same difference in my attitude toward life.

2. I wanted an honest understanding of the world, not just a drink of feminism from a firehose.

I don't think it's disputed that universities are overbalanced in a particular political direction. This is a problem because schools teach theory, not just fact, and I want sound theory--and I want it taught as theory when it is. I want a balanced perspective, which means learning from people who are willing to acknowledge and fairly explain both sides of the equation even when they come down strongly on one. Perhaps I'm asking too much of the human person. Or perhaps I just have to do the research myself.

Despite my profound respect for the halls of learning, from my outside perspective it does seem that they might benefit occasionally from closer contact with common sense. The problem is far larger than feminism alone, though I consider some of the presumptions made by most feminists as among the most likely to insulate a mind from simple reason--or a woman from simple happiness.

3. The lack of a B.A. hasn't thus far prevented me from getting good jobs, including managerial roles.

That could happen eventually; it's happened to relatives of mine. As it is, however, I've been a team leader and a supervisor, a bookkeeper to a lawyer and to a cafe and gallery; I've been a customer service professional and an information manager. I've done text development and project management, filled in as church secretary for several weeks when the actual secretary was on leave, and have done substitute teaching in a cooperative academy. I've never yet been fired. At present, I think that if it became necessary I could pursue a degree.

4. My goals of being a wife, mother, and writer were more likely to be generally hindered than helped by a university and its requisite investment of time and money.

Of course, there's always the old joke about girls going to college to get their MRS degree, but since my husband was off in Ohio at a Catholic school I'd never heard of, studying to be a monk, I think a BA would have been my only achievement. :P Seriously, though, I've no reason to regret coming into marriage debt-free. As for writing, an English or English lit major might help an aspiring author, but I think it likely that simply reading and writing helps more. The great works are generally quite accessible, and literary discussion is likewise easy to find.

As much as higher education is necessary for some trades, I get the feeling that we worship it as a society; it bothers me that expensive degrees are required for other fields when talent, home study and experience can get a person just as far or farther, usually with less debt and sometimes less arrogance.

It bothers me, for instance, that the desire for M. Divs in pastors has led to a disproportionate number of trendy young men running evangelical churches. It bothers me that a Bachelor's in music is required to lead the five-piece band in a worship service. (Yes, I'm a Catholic, and yes, I still have opinions about how the Protestants do things. The Catholics aren't entirely guilt-free either.) It bothers me that artistic degrees are required in almost any situation, and it bothers me that people feel it necessary to spend tens of thousands of dollars getting degrees irrelevant to almost every possible occupation just because society pressures them to get something.

All this, however, is certainly not intended as a polemic. I am not anti-college. My husband, my mother, both of my sisters, and my best friend are all graduates of higher education, and all of them made worthwhile choices. All I would advocate is proportionality: let the reason for getting a degree, and the value of the degree in question, be in proportion to the investment required.

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