Monday, February 16, 2015

An Education By Fits And Starts But Not Degrees

My formal "college" consists of 26 community college credits, half of them in ceramics.  I took two classes in cultural anthropology, fell in love with Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart", and decided anthropology was my life's calling--until my husband called my attention to the want ads in our big city paper.  Not a single call for anthropologists anywhere, and since we were among the almost-poor, and I still had kids at home, I had to think inside the box.

I took a business class taught by a one-handed pianist who should have stuck to his night job.  He invited our class to his concert and, even with one hand, his performance was flawless.  When it came time to evaluate him, none of us could do the honest thing and point out his flaws as a teacher of business.  We gave him high marks for personality.

nouveau girl reading books 1909 I took two creative writing classes taught by an old pot-smoking hippie who wore chains and earrings and orange tennis shoes and who told us right off that he didn't care what we wrote as long as we wrote something.  I thought the guy himself was ridiculous, trying as he did to be George Carlin and Jack Kerouac, all in the same skin, so it took me a while to realize how much I had actually learned there.   It came to me much later, when I was putting together materials to teach my own adult-ed creative writing classes:  What he gave us was a setting where we could write and fail and get a huge kick out of what we were doing.  He was a teacher without judgement but with a knack for finding what could be fixed.

I took a modern literature class taught by a woman I don't remember at all--not her name, not her face, not her teaching technique.  But through her I met Eudora Welty, Joseph Conrad, Langston Hughes, and Flannery O'Connor--writers I might have overlooked if she hadn't brought them (and so many others) to my attention.

And that was the end of my formal education.  Whatever else I've learned, I've learned either by happenstance or serendipity. Being in the right place at the right time.  Stumbling across something that got me curiouser and curiouser and led me to something else that led me to something else.  Unless I got distracted; then it was something else altogether.

 Living near Detroit, I had the advantage of meeting some exceptional writers and thinkers and I latched onto them like a parasite on a host.  I tried to drain them of everything they had to give--quietly, of course, without drawing blood.  I went to readings and workshops and lectures.  I joined groups where professional writers gathered.

They taught me a trade, but it's a haphazard way to get an education.  It's not an education, in fact.  Whatever it is, it's full of holes.  Great gaping holes.  Great gaping embarrassing holes.  (I couldn't find Iraq on a map if you gave me a hundred bucks to do it. I don't know what Pi is and I'm afraid I'm missing something meaningful.  I only recently found out that Goethe is pronounced "Gurt-uh".  Good thing I never had occasion to say his name out loud.)

Now President Obama is pushing for free two-year community college for everyone.  It'll be an uphill battle, but I'm right there beside him, rooting him on.  I don't want anyone to have to take on the task of educating themselves.  It can't be done.  They need teachers.  They need campus life.  They need to argue and debate, to be challenged, to be opened up to directions they might never have taken and ideas they might never have formed on their own.  They need to be pushed and pulled and exposed to a world wholly outside of themselves.

 They need to prepare for jobs, and we as a country need to pave the way.  We need to build again, creating good-paying jobs for them to fill.  We need to smarten up, and the best way to do it is through education.

We know that now.

 Pretty sure we do.

But I could be wrong.


  1. Jobs? The GOP is having none of that.

  2. I know! We have to work on that.

  3. Well maybe they do. We're really trying over here on the left!

  4. You bet, Anomaly. Your website, Freak Out Nation, is the best! (Hey, everybody, check them out. They're working hard for us. Let's show 'em some love!)

  5. I was talking to my cousin's kids in Denmark a few years ago. Both young women were in college, one in theater and one in linguistics. Their education was free and they got about a $900 per month stipend because one has to eat, etc. They know it is expensive for the country, but think it is definitely worth it.
    Back in the day it only took me ten years to pay off my college loans. The debts the kids are saddled with today are scary. As a nation we're doing it wrong.

  6. Jon, one of the pushbacks by the Republicans is that if we give young people a free education they won't appreciate it the way they would if they have to pay for it and/or work hard for it. the proposal says students can go to school part time (presumably because they'll also have to work) and have to maintain a 2.8 average. That should shut them up, but of course it won't.

    They also don't want to hear about the historic successes in other countries that already do this. One swift glance at those countries shows how much better off everyone is when the majority are educated and motivated.

    But of course when you want to create and maintain a serfdom the idea of an educated populace is terrifying.

  7. Great article and I agree wholeheartedly. We learn about life in the "real" world, but that world becomes so much larger and more interesting with education. I received my BA at age 47 while working full time. It would have helped my career had I earned it earlier, however I felt that I had better focus and was more willing to do the hard work at that age.

  8. When I was young I really wanted to go to school but didn't have the time or the money. When I got older and had no more excuses, I found that what I really wanted was the community and the camaraderie. The classroom stuff left me cold. But I'm the first to admit that I missed out on some good learning experiences by not going. You can't get a real education by picking and choosing what you want to learn. That's where the "great gaps" come in. Lol.

  9. I went to a small college with small classrooms and a lot of discussion. None of those huge auditorium type lecture halls. That made all the difference in the quality of my education.

  10. Sounds like the best kind. Of course, it would put all those high paid professors out of work. I don't think they'd like that much!


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