Tuesday, November 25

The true meaning of college

Over a bland, post-stomach-bug lunch of chicken noodle soup and toast, Noah waxed philosophical and revealed some deep thoughts unearthed by a review of our finances.

I knew things were going to get good when he led off with this: "I think we should put money into this new savings account. It has good interest rate, and you only have to start with a dollar. Which is good, because that's pretty much what we have."

Then we moved on to the infinitely more lighthearted subject of his career. The police department is most likely moving to permanent shifts in January, and Noah had to fill out a questionnaire about his preferences — what district he wants to work, what shift, which of those choices was more important to him, and any reasons that would prevent him from working a particular shift permanently. I told him to put down "My wife will leave me if I get a permanent evening or night shift" as a reason, but based on the way a lot of those guys talk, they might not consider that a hardship. Then I suggested "Our medical expenses would skyrocket because it would take a truckload of pharmaceuticals to keep my wife sane." I think he put that one down. And underlined it.

We have our fingers crossed for a day shift, but the thing is, Noah is one of the least senior members of the department, so that could potentially close the door on all our hopes and dreams. That's right, all of them. Because all our hopes and dreams revolve around me not spiraling into a mental breakdown.

A contributing problem is that Noah's degree (in religious studies) prepared him for precisely two paths: working in a church, or being a religion scholar. He has tried both, and neither worked out for a number of reasons. Perhaps he can revisit those options later in life.

"I blame God for this," he says. "For making me feel called to get a degree that wouldn't get me any money." That's one to think on. "Although," he added with a glimmer of that old, positive-thinking Noah, "I do get paid more at the police department for having a degree."

"Yes," says I. "But you could have gotten paid more at the police department for having a degree in accounting just as easily as religion. And then you could have quit your job at the police department and been an accountant."

The problem, we have concluded, is that not nearly enough is said about the true meaning of college: to make you money. Making money is not the meaning of life, but by gum if it isn't the meaning of college, what is?

Too many college-bound teens or college students think that college is about the experience. The friendships, the endless piles of dirty laundry, the fantastically open schedules, intramural sports, hoodies, late nights, innumerable pizzas, the fun of dorm life and long breaks around holidays. Actually learning something that will translate into a positive profit margin AFTER all those priceless good times are over comes in at 14th runner up on the Why I'm Going to College Top-1o List.

Few college students I have known, including myself way back when, actually asked the question, What is the point of all this? There was always, "What should my major be?" and "Which sorority should I pledge?" (I didn't pledge, by the way) and "Why can't more of these tests be multiple choice?" and the ever-present "Why do I need to know this?" Which strangely never seemed to beg the question, "How is this degree going to help me recoup the cost of obtaining this degree?" or, alternatively, "What's in it for me?"

I probably never heard that question asked because all the people who would have asked it were squirreled away in corners of the library studying for their mind-numbingly boring business, accounting and pre-med classes. I on the other hand hung around with the artsy "There are TONS of jobs for English majors" crowd. This is the same crowd (professors included) who accompanied me to receive an award at a literature conference in Mississippi, and collectively decided to skip out on the second day to go hang out at William Faulkner's house instead of attending the lectures (my part was over on day one). To my crowd's credit, I do have a job that is completely pertinent to my degree, and I have several friends who can say the same. But Noah ... well, you have to dig a little deeper to see any connection between his degree and his job. He ran with the "Have faith" crowd, and look where that got him.

Out of dejection (particularly since the current economy has pretty much frozen anyone who has a job into a fearful I-must-keep-my-job-no-matter-what mentality), Noah has decided to focus his energies less on the shortcomings of his degree and more on teaching Cody to do tricks.

I'm not sure that endeavor with yield better results.


Anonymous said...

I think you overstate the case when you say that the true purpose of college is to make you money. Your larger point is the more important one - and the one that people tend to lose sight of: a college degree is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The corollary to this, which people also lose sight of, is that and the so-called "college experience" is a byproduct of this quest, not the purpose of it.

As a philospohy major, I'm sympathetic to the plight. But I chose philosophy as my major because I wanted to learn *how* to think, not *what* to think. At no time did I labor under the delusion that I'd have a department chairmanship waiting for me when I earned my BA. I knew that I was going to have to get out there and get some "real world" bona fides to supplement my degree; to prove to any potential employers that I could find practical applications for the critical reasoning skills and enhanced mental agility that my studies provided.

Unfortunately, too many students and prospectives are being misled my their friends, teachers, guidance counsellors, admissions officers, and even their parents, to realize this.

Sarah Von Bargen said...

Oh, Erin. Are you inside my brain? I could write an essay here, but instead I'll just point out that at Canadian universities (which are, btw, much less expensive than ours) work experience/internships are built into the curriculum and required to graduate. So nobody, no matter how clueless and lazy, emerges from those hallowed halls of learning without something to put on a resume. So much to learn from those northern neighbors of ours.

Now, please excuse me while I go rub together the two nickels that I get to keep after I pay my school loans each month.

Erin said...

Excellent comments, both.

Sarah Von--I have often wondered if all of us wouldn't be better off in Canada.

I'd also like to give a shout-out to the Toninator, philosophizing from the Middle East. You're really going above and beyond.

Anonymous said...

E-bone, thanks for the shout, but if you really think Canada is such a terrestrial paradise... well, then, hop on the next goose to Edmonton and leave this wretched cesspool of a country to those of us who actually like it.

(Sorry, you know I love ya, and I don't mean to sound disagreeable or jingoish, but you hit on one of my all-time biggest pet peeves.)

Melanie L said...

Matt majored in philosophy. He now is a nuclear munitions maintenance officer. So, unless you count his thought process, he's not actively using his degree either. Although, I guess you could say he is being actively paid for having it (and a masters in business, random).

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