The Point of School

5 01 2007

Today at work, one of the VPs I haven’t seen in a long while stopped by to look out my window.  Atlanta had some really bad storms move through and at the time she stopped, the glass building was being hammered with sideways rain.  I work in a corner of the glass building, so I could see the rain coming straight at me from one side and to the other side, rain streaking past me.  Kinda cool.  It makes me really glad I got over my fear of storms.

 So – back to the VP.  We haven’t talked in quite a while and she was wondering if I was still in college.  I had been going part time while I worked for her and she wanted to know if I had finished yet.  I told her I made it a year and a half in before I quit.  When she mentioned that was unfortunate, I said “besides, school bored the crap out of me!” 

 She laughed and mentioned that she never knew what was going to come out of my mouth.  This is true – lots of people say that.  The thing is, I never know what’s going to come out of my mouth either.  But that’s another rabbit trail.

Honestly, I think school is a good idea, but I would have had to been in a much more advanced school than I was attending.  In high school, I was the proverbial curve-buster.  Until Calculus, I never even studied.  It’s just that photographic memory thing and the OCD thing that make me really good at details as long as memorizing numbers or dates isn’t involved.  If it’s literary, I’m going to remember it.  That’s why I own every book I read – if I didn’t, the details would haunt me and I’d go nuts trying to find it so I could reread it. 

Sometimes I think about going back to school – somewhere like Oglethorpe or GA Tech.   My mom really wanted me to go to Brenau, but tuition there costs more than her house and I honestly have no desire to learn how to drink tea with snobs.  I thought about going to the Art Institute of Atlanta, but when I told them my SAT scores, the guy just dropped his mouth open and stared at me.  Obviously, they don’t have very brainy standards… my SAT scores are only on the higher side of average.

I don’t know… I did the math last week, and in the 6 years I’ve been with this company (since I was 19) and the increases in pay I’ve seen, I’ve actually profitted by not going to school.  Here’s how I figure:

Student loans – I have none and none are accruing interest while I work my tail off to pay them.

I’m a home owner – I’ve owned my own home for 7 years, and the value has appreciated over $60,000.  This would not have been possible had I not been working full time and when I finally got to the point of getting a job, I’d have too high of a debt to income ratio to get a good interest rate and the increase in values would have put most homes out of my price range.

Promotions and pay increases:  Every year, I’ve seen a pay raise and I’ve been promoted twice since I’ve worked here.  I make about the same thing my husband does, and he has a piece of paper saying he knows what he’s doing.

Taking all that into consideration, I’m pretty sure I’m coming out ahead.  Also, my brain is not rotting from lack of use because I continually educate myself with books, problem-solving, and training.  Just because I don’t have a formal education doesn’t mean that I’m not educated.  Besides, I know how to best teach myself – I’ve been doing it for a long time.  I just need to know what to learn next.  Right now, I’m learning software integration with VBA.  Next, who knows. 

I told the person who interviewed me to come into the company “I can learn anything you can teach me” and it’s entirely true.  I don’t know why they decided to take such a huge risk on a 19 year old with no corporate experience, but I think I’ve done good things while I’ve been here. 

College.  It would have probably bored me to a point of non-thinking and conformity before giving me a piece of paper and a job listing guide and shoving me into the real world unprepared for real world situations.  There are things in corporate life that cannot be taught by schools – they are things that our parents were supposed to teach us and if we haven’t learned it by the time we graduate, we probably aren’t going to learn it in four years at school.

I’m not planning on conforming.  I’ll do quite well without my piece of paper.




3 responses

10 01 2007

I’ve thought about this post for a while now, not quite knowing what to say. I have lots of degrees and both my wife and I work in higher education. There are all sorts of different colleges. And there are all sorts of different people and personalities. But sometimes there is no match.

When I first went to college I was completely unprepared. Partially it was the type of school, partially the fact that I worked full-time, didn’t live on campus, and a slew of other reasons. I dropped out for a semester and, because of the job market at the time (California, 1982, unemployment in my town something like 15%) went back determined to finish. Partially this was because I thought it would (and it did) help me in the job market. Partially, though, I was lower-middle class and really wanted the academic lifestyle, or what I idealized as that lifestyle–tweed jackets, not a lot of physical labor, not having to associate with the types of people I had to at the warehouse I worked during the other 40 hrs of the week.

Eventually I found my way, and I enjoyed school more and more as I went along. But it is certainly not the only way through life. You seem like a bright, capable, well-rounded person. And you read and have a technical job. For you to have to give up things like real-estate equity to pursue a piece of paper. That just doesn’t make any sense.

10 01 2007

I hope I’m not coming across as too school-bashing. Most people, when they meet me, assume that I have a degree from an elite school and that I’m at least 10 years older than I actually am. Then they get to be very surprised when they find out I’m 25 and mournfully (systematically) uneducated. I add the parenthesis because I don’t consider myself uneducated – only that I didn’t attend a school to gain my education.

In my generation, most children expect to attend a college. I grew up very low-middle class in the hills of GA but with the HOPE scholarship, anyone who made a B average in high school was guaranteed a grant or scholarship regardless of how much money your parents made. My husband attended school on the HOPE grant, which is based on monetary status, but also paid for more. I attended school on the scholarship and I got a free ride to school and $150 for books each quarter.

Nearly everyone I work with is degreed, but their degrees are in fields they don’t use at all. My good friend who works with me has a degree in Criminal Psychology. Now, we work in a dotcom that sells advertising to automobile dealers. Most of the people in my department (web production/design) do not have design degrees but picked the skill up along the road. I design the reporting for the department and manage workflow data, but I just stumbled across this job. It has nothing to do with what I wanted to do with my life.

If I could, I’d be a professional student at a very small liberal arts school. I would love to sit and discuss government or politics or art with a small group of people every day. However, I have to work for a living and cannot do that. I do get the internet age’s version of academia, though. Like you said, I wear nice clothes, I don’t do much physical labor, and most of my associates are well-read and cultured. My husband even smokes a pipe!

I remember that we once had a military recruiter come into class while I was in high school. He drew two crossed lines on the board, much like a compass and said “there are four ways you can go in life. One is to college. One is to the work force. One is to do nothing at all or go to jail. The other is the military.”

I come from a long line of military folks but with my heart condition I knew that lifestyle wasn’t for me. I always planned on college. However, while my husband was in school to get his degree, I worked full time to keep us afloat. After that, he got hired on where he currently works and I was hired on at a sister company. After that, I started rethinking my views on life and college.

I no longer believe that being degreed will set me apart from other interviewees – everyone has a degree. To be set apart, you must have a masters or above – or there is another option: work experience. From my collegiate friends, that is the bane of their existance if they weren’t lucky enough to snag an internship.

I know I am very lucky to have the background I do and that my parents taught me the things they did. I’m also lucky that I live in a metro area where the economy is booming and job-finding is not very difficult if a person has the will and drive to find one. I do understand that most children do not have the opportunities I did and were never taught how to be a good employee. Those kids need college or the military to grow them up. However, I don’t think that I have suffered any for missing out on school. If anything, it saved me a lot of grief because I got to miss out on all those lovely exams. 😛

12 01 2007

Like you, I was one of those curve-busters in high school. And I didn’t even study for Calculus. But high school ended, and though I had two (very small) scholarships, my father would have nothing to do with helping me with college costs, and I decided that rather than try and work and do school at the same time, I’d try the military first. This was in 1968, when enlisting was not exactly a popular option, and the recruiter I signed up with had the same reaction to my SAT scores as yours at the Art Institute. Four years in the Air Force turned into twelve before I finally called it quits with a Congress that wouldn’t properly support its military, and I started off in the civilian world. I now work as a senior electronics engineer, and though I have no sheepskin, my education level is probably at least that of a masters, with a general knowledge base that is probably quite a bit wider than some of my degreed colleagues.

However, the path I took to my current position is now almost totally closed off by corporations, as almost all of them absolutely require a degree for even minimal engineering entry-level jobs. I think these companies are being short-sighted, as I have seen far too many fresh college grads who know absolutely nothing, either technical or work-habit wise, and I see many who work as technicians (often immigrants) who do know what’s what. But that’s the way the corporate culture is now, and I’ve tried to make that very plain to my two sons.

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