The point

When I was a college freshman, I had an argument with my mother. I don’t argue with my mother much, truly. But at that time, in that situation, we had such a huge difference in perspective that I still think about it.

I was registering for classes, and I wanted to sign up for International Studies II: Romania. Never mind that I did not take International Studies I. The course sounded intriguing.

My mom asked what degree requirement it would meet.

“It doesn’t meet any of them.”

“Then you’re not taking it.”

“What? Why?”

“Because it doesn’t meet any of your requirements.”

“So what?”

“So you can take a class that does.”

And so on until I hollered, “I thought the point of going to college was to learn!”

My mother’s response? “The point of going to college is to get a better job.”

Eventually, we compromised. Undergraduate degrees do require a certain number of elective credits, so International Studies II became one of mine. But I puzzled and puzzled over what she said. Why did we have such different ideas about college?

Only recently did I finally put the pieces together.

My mother is a first generation college graduate. She started college after high school, but left without finishing her degree when my father’s job sent them to another state. When I was ten, she went back to school. She received her degree a year or so later. She has been working in school libraries ever since, which is what her degree qualifies her to do.

I grew up knowing that I would go to college. It was never “if we can afford it” or “if you want to”. I was going, period. And I did.

When my mother was starting college, achieving a degree really did give you an edge when you applied for a job. Which I guess is still true, but the impact of having a degree is blunted by the fact that everyone applying for white-collar jobs these days has one. Plus, aside from certain fields like medicine and teaching, college degrees don’t fit you for a particular job anymore. It’s just important to have a degree in something.

For me, college was almost like an extension of high school. You have a certain number of hours to fill, so you sign up for classes that fit your interests. I have a wide variety of interests, so I was never at a loss. Band, choir, foreign language, journalism, art–I wanted to study them all. College offered an even bigger smorgasbord. Why wouldn’t I sign up for International Studies?

Eventually I obtained degrees in magazine journalism and German. Since then, I have dabbled. A few language courses, a few seminary courses…but I haven’t settled on a field or degree program. I flirt with law and theology and education, but I don’t commit. Why?

Every program I consider prepares its students for a specific career. And while I may be interested in the job, I am not certain the nuts-and-bolts courses will hold my attention. In the specific instance of teaching, I like to teach, but every education class I have ever taken was so chock-full of “duh” that I’m not sure I can stomach a degree program’s worth of them.

From my perspective of education for the sake of learning, it seems disingenuous to enroll in courses I have no interest in. And if I don’t enroll in those courses, I won’t achieve a law degree or masters in divinity or education.

Hm. Maybe–in this instance–my mom was right.


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One Response to “The point”

  1. Dixie Says:

    I had to giggle a little because I don’t feel the need to go back to school because I don’t have a concrete reason to. When I started in Music Ed., the education was a tag-on program to please mom – to be practical. I didn’t really want to be a teacher, I wanted to be a singer. Ironically, it was through that ed. class that I met my husband-to-be and he was to become my avenue to sing (and God.) Now, I know that to get a “JOB” you need a degree, but it seems pointless right now. A waste of money when people aren’t hiring and there is so much competition for the available jobs. Living by faith is a good place for me. On the other hand, to encourage you a little, if you have the desire to teach, the initial education class is a tedious mire of history and court cases, but once you get into the practical, it’s much more interesting and compelling.

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