“Many successful college kids would have been successful whether they went to college or not.”
“The bachelor’s degree? It’s America’s most overrated product.”
“More people need to realize that you don’t have to get a four-year degree to be successful.”
At some point, before or after you read this entry, I highly recommend reading this short article from which I have pulled the above quotes, “Living the Good Life Without College”: http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/020109/opi_383534188.shtml
As with most things which go against the mainstream view, this John Stossel article stirs up copious controversy among its readers. And what that has brought me to see is the frighteningly obsessive value this society puts on education; particularly on one single way to get this education. Words I hear repeatedly in these arguments are “job,” “employment,” and “success,” often coupled with “you can’t.”
These arguments lead me to believe that there is a hugely significant amount of fear ingrained in the American mind. We are told by teachers, politicians, peers, and often our family, that, to paraphrase John Taylor Gatto, we must go to school, work hard, and get good grades; go to college, work hard, and get good grades; graduate, get a job, work hard for 40 years in that job to get as many promotions as possible and make as much money as possible, in order to buy as much STUFF as possible. So, in essence, the purpose of education is to own large amounts of grand material possessions. How valiant. How patriotic.
Sure, this model may seem like a perfect fit for some. But I think there are more people out there than we realize who want something different for themselves. Something better. Not everybody fits into the same mold. We are all unique. We’ve been told that since day one. So why, then, must we all accomplish basically the same things in life, in the same way?
What is this ever-sought “success” that is always talked about? What does that word really mean?
Let’s start with the basics. Most highschool seniors do not really know what they want to do in life. In spite of everything else they could do in their precious young years, they usually go ahead and jump right into college after graduation. They are unsure of where they are supposed to go in life, so college becomes another comfort zone, as grade school probably was. My mom said she jumped into college not knowing why, or what she wanted to do afterwards. I have peers and have met many others who did or are doing the same thing.
The idea was tempting to me, too. By November 2007 (my “senior” year) I had gone around in millions of circles in the past eight or so months, pondering over what I truly wanted to do for the rest of my life. Every time I’d settle on something I would say to myself, “Okay, this is the one this time! This is my calling.” Of course, I usually changed my belief about what my “calling” was every month, give or take a couple of weeks. Naturally, it would have been be nice for me to simply choose one thing to study for four years, and sit back and “relax” while I learned it all, feeling secure in the knowledge that, once I graduated, I would have a degree that would supposedly allow me to make tons of money in the corporate world. But, by the time I would have graduated, would I have even wanted to have a job even close to what I had majored in? Knowing myself, probably not.
What bothered me even more when I talked to people—friends, extended family, random people on the street—is that they could not seem to comprehend, visualize, or in any other way understand the idea that I was thinking about not going to college. I had several home schooled friends with whom I had discussed life after high school. I had mentioned my indecisiveness about college to a few, and I almost always got the same reaction: “Have you applied anywhere yet?” (“No.”) “Well, you’d better soon, because you’re a senior, right?” (“Yeah.”) “You have your SAT scores back by now, I guess?” (“I haven’t taken the SAT.”) “What? Well, you’d better take it soon!” (“I don’t want to.”) “But you have to take it in order to get into college.” (“No I don’t.”) “Uh, yeah you do!”
Well, where will they be in four years? They may be lost and confused, just as I am sure I would be after college. All that intense schooling… and then what? For my interests, for what I wanted to do with my life, what good would college be to me? Broadly, I want to work with animals and nature. Why spend four years in classes, half of which aren’t even relevant, when I could spend a fraction of that time getting out there and experiencing what I want to do myself, deciding whether I really like it or not, and using the experiences, references, etc., to apply to any job I want with the confidence that I have what it takes to get it?
If I had decided to go to college, I would have, indeed, graduated with high grades and an interesting degree, gotten a good job and make lots of money thusly. That is all fine and dandy, except that it is nothing I have ever wanted to do. Me, I want to jump right into doing a job that I love, learning useful things I also enjoy (not things I am forced or obligated to learn), and taking pleasure in the work I am doing. On top of that, I learn better by emersion in a hands-on environment, not in classrooms with textbooks, lectures, and tests. And I am definitely not the only person this applies to.
Once people see that today’s definition of success may not necessarily be the right one for every person, they could begin to branch off and start being themselves, doing what interests them, and taking many different paths in life. It’s not all college and good jobs. Success should be when a person is passionately doing what they love in their life. That is my ideal, and my definition of a successful person.
I will blog more about the definition of success in my next entry.