Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Value of Education - A response.

Jenna’s response, and Christie’s deliciously long response in the comment section give me a lot to respond to regarding College education. Both remind us of how very burdensome the cost of college has become. Thanks to scholarships, and generous family, my husband and I managed to get though with minimal debt, so I don’t always think of the actual cost of education. But it’s a looming weight to many students. Many students forget, until it’s too late, the mountain of debt waiting for them when they graduate. And often, going to college is a means to an end - we go to have the college experience, to get a degree, to land a job, to turn that job into a career and settle in for the long haul. College often becomes just another stepping stone on the path to Success, and success is required to pay off the debt. When I began as a Theology major, we were all given a lecture by the head of the department: “This degree will not get you a job,” a disappointing reality that led a few to re-evaluate their direction. One of the positive parts of a college writing program is that the majority of the students and professors understand that their degree is not in pursuit of a career so much as it’s in pursuit of knowledge, the lecture is unnecessary.
I tend to romanticize my college days. Days and nights spent immersed in study, pursuing wisdom, and discussing the intangibles late into the night. I went to school with no intention of using my degree in the traditional sense. I wanted to educated, but I wanted education for it’s own sake, as undisciplined as my own interests. In reality I spent much of college immersed in the petty dramas that immerse many students, discussing in-depth the confusing behavior of the man I loved (now my husband - still loved, and only slightly less confusing). I generally focus on the intellectual highlights when I look back, but the social life is a huge part of the true value of higher education. I met many of my dearest friends in College, I learned a lot about myself, and I began to develop my interests as an adult. All good and helpful things, and all fascilitated in some way by college life.

“Not everyone is suited to the format and demands of university, and as things stand, the debts generally incurred in the obtaining of a degree are terribly burdensome.”

Jenna is right, not everyone is suited. And I’ve seen some sad results when people are thrown into the college system without the desire or ability to do well there, but only the vague notion that they ought to be in school. But my own experience of schooling is not at all to the point of regretting at any level, my college experience. I know I would be nowhere near where I am in my writing and intellectual life -not to mention my personal life- without my time at school. I don’t even regret my time skipping from program to program, it’s a path to degree I would love to give anyone - a B.A. in Random Information Ending in Passionate Study. An ideal degree. My senior writing professor had more influence on my education than any teacher up to that point. Her advice, guidance, affirmation, and critique alone was worth the cost of the entire degree. 
Neither my husband, whose degree is in Anthropology, nor I use our degrees in any professional sense. But neither would trade the education, which formed us well for life. That said, I think Christie’s experience is common, in part because, in trying to make college accessible to everyone, schools often hire professors who are unable to teach and guide their students past a stage of competence and into creativity. This is especially problematic is programs that ought to be creative, like writing.
Attempting to send all Americans to college is unfair to everyone involved. The students, both those who want to be there and those who don't, and the professors. The assumption that higher education is necessary for success, especially in the creative sphere is frustrating and unhelpful, but understandable when we have a bias against self-education. It gives us a standard, at least to measure against, but as it becomes more and more common to read books and articles written by B.A.s, M.A.s and PH.ds that read like high-school essays, the importance of a College education may dwindle.
I realize I didn't really add much to the 'discussion' aspect, so if you have nothing much to add, feel free to boil it all down and just write on what you think the benefits or detriments a College writing program would be for you as a writer right now (as a more 'formed' writer). Do you think a program now would be more beneficial or more frustrating for you? Though I'm sure it would depend on the program...My writing professor would love you!


  1. I think this is great, and I'll at least answer your question. Possibly just that, since this week I'm also editing a friend's book and painting a deck before the rains come. :)

    So I saw something that made me fighting mad the other day, and thought it might inspire you blogalectically. It was a quote that went, roughly, "The highest calling of an artist is to challenge people's views and test the boundaries of society" (I can find and link the article if you like, though it was comparatively irrelevant; it was mostly about the presence/absence of LGBT characters in speculative fiction).

    Anyway, I thought NO. And I thought, that attitude destroys the very heart of what art is. (Of course, I seem to be going through a few weeks of being annoyed with swathes of the internet, so I might be overreacting.) This might cut too close to our fairly-recent topic of agenda in art, but I thought I'd throw it out there in case it inspires you. If it doesn't, I'll just go on thinking They're Wrong and I'm Right, and leave it at that. ;)

  2. I DO want to discuss it! How frustrating! Art would be the most banal thing if that were it's "highest calling".

    I might read over the whole agenda thing and see if I can't use this anyway, it could be more along the lines of "what is the highest calling in art" and what are some mistaken ideas about that calling..well see. Thanks for the idea!!! If you have any more, let me know!