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In Which A College Teacher Tells People Not To Go To College


You poof-haired little snob.


Granted, later in the strip, April Patterson generously gives poor, non-leading Gerald Official Permission to not attend college without, perhaps, suffering eternal damnation. Generous is April, wise as well as kind, in so issuing her approval.


There are a couple of things going on here, and the first one I want to get out of the way is the fact that I've had it with this strip ever since Liz, who was previously juggling a hot cop and a helicopter pilot in the middle of Northern Nowhere, chucked them both in favor of Horribly Creepy Pornstache Anthony, all because he doubly-saved her from a rape she was in the middle of stopping herself simply by twisting the assailant's ear. And no, none of that is exaggeration for humorous effect. That be life in the new-millennium world of For Better or for Worse.


Point Two, and the slightly larger one, was raised yesterday by Terrorist The Teacher of yesterday's post, who switched from reading the American History exam to the European History exam. What I didn't mention, and what hints at a big ol' pumpkin pie's worth of truth, was why she chose to leap across the pond:

This year, Kluge switched from grading U.S. history exams to European history exams because "reading the U.S. history was becoming more and more depressing," she said. "AP U.S. history nationwide has become much more of a push-them-into-it program." She said she hoped the European exams, which like all AP exams have free-response sections graded by expert instructors, might reveal "students who are a little more committed."

Oh, snap, she came very, very close to mentioning The Unmentionable in America: The concept that maybe kids are taking on college-level classes--and college itself--who are really better off not going to college. Yes I said that.

By which I mean: Lookit, if you have real, true intellectual curiosity, if you want a white-collar job, if you're interested in a career which requires a degree, then for frak's sake do a one-second Google search for "financial aid" or "college scholarships" and have at it. But I have seen many freshman come tumbling down the college chute who didn't belong there, because they didn't have the academic do-how and had been shoved in anyway by well-meaning higher ups, or because they didn't care, or because they'd been scare-washed into thinking that this is the only way to not starve in America, or because they were plodding down Diploma Mill Road under parent and social duress, daaaaaaring me to teach them. If that's you, kindly stay out of my classroom. You're harshing my lit-vibe.

This does not necessarily predestine one life of fries. I don't know where this business of no degree = DOOMED, DOOMED FOREVER began, but it's entirely possible to eat well and remain un-Bachelorized (I'm thinking the ill-fated self-esteem movement played a nice, huggy role). My father, a small business owner, has a few college credits he collected at the University of Tampa while in the Air Force, but never graduated; and Daniel The Brother-In-Law, who is an air traffic controller in the Army, doesn't have a degree, either. And yet I'd rather have him telling pilots where to direct their multi-billion dollar taxpayer funded machines than some seniors to whom I've awarded a nice, fat F+ for their craptastic efforts.

I have two majors with my B.A. and its shiny minor in American history, plus a Master's degree, all of which mean precisely jack when my car breaks down or the dishwasher won't start or I'm, like, attacked by bees. I have no idea how to deal with these things, and most of the people who do, people who take home approximately five times my pay, are not going to hear any lip out of me. Matter of fact, some of my best students are my non-trads: The middle aged moms who married right out of high school, the GI Billers, the men who woke up in the middle of a career in sales one morning, all "You know what? I want to program computers and run the world." These are the people who never, ever send me emails along the lines of "What time is are finl? 'K tnks by." They have seen the world beyond the extended adolescence of the college classroom, and they know that curling into a intelligia-ball is warm work.

And walking through this life without scooping up a collection of letters to put on a nameplate is not a signal of low intelligence. Some of the street-dumbest people I've ever met sat beneath a wall of diplomas. As a fan of the seven forms of intelligence theory, there's no way I'm going to announce that I'm smarter than a jockey who hits the track with a sub-GED education, for when it comes to not falling off a 1500-pound animal going 30 miles an hour, he's a freaking genius.

This is also not to say that four years of Latin are wasted on a plumber or that baseball players shouldn't study Renaissance theology. If you like to learn and want to learn, go ahead on. But if you're taking up space and bent on SparkNoting your way to a degree, hie thee to a job fair. You're a consumer, not a student.

I stuck around college because, unlike many, many things, I was pretty good at it; I managed, there in the little cocoon-world of saying things like "But the structure of the piece is at odds with the voice, which contributes to the thematic realities," and having people nod and spout similar bull*#&@ right on back. You don't get away with that anywhere else on the face of the Earth. And for good reason.

And so, graduates, as you step into this new world, I beg of you: Seriously consider not going to college. You'll thank me about $100,000 down the road.

advising her way right out of a job at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (12)

I have to say....GO BIG SISTER!!! It's awesome to hear you saying these things...somebody in your position (e.g. educational achievements) needs to be saying these things. I'm proud of you for being That Person. You speak 100% truth. Love,
Your other non-degreed B.I.L. who is quite happy without one.

I am shocked that Liz is going to marry Anthony, too! Who'd a thunk? I would have gone with Hot Cop, myself. :D

My husband (at 41)is a non-trad and he works much harder and has much higher expectations than I ever did. I was also good in school and good at being in school. Shoulda/woulda/coulda gotten a Masters degree myself, but I was not really interested in MORE reading and writing for at least 2 more years. I was lazy in college and did what I needed to to end up with a 3.4 thisclose to a cum laude - but I just didn't care. And I didn't have one clue what I was going to do with a degree in English.
So, here I sit, at yet another gov't contractor, thinking that I'll go back to school here eventually and become a veterinarian.
Looks like I have a few science classes in my future.

June 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKris

This is a rant that is very common among high school teachers, my husband and his colleagues included. Among his alumnus are CDL drivers and diesel mechanics who make double his teacher's salary. When did American education decide that these people are "less successful" without a college degree? Thanks for agreeing that they're not.

June 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEGDykstra

Amen. I'm all for a person getting educated, but if said person is going to be wasting his or her time, taxpayers' money, his or her educator's time and resources (not to mention patience), etc., what's the point? Go to a trade school, learn something valuable, and charge the PhDs $80 an hour to fix the sink.

June 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLK

The thing is this. At one point in our society, people began to see higher education as a tedious process that directly translates to $$$$.

But that's NOT the purpose of a University.

You go to a University to *gasp* learn. You should spend 4, 6 or 8 years in a class-room because you WANT to be there, because you're curious and are craving for knowledge.

But of course, your dad ends up telling you you should study an engineering because it pays more. Maybe you listen to him, maybe you shut your ears and study whatever you want, with the possible outcome than 10 years later you might hate the fact that a guy who went to Business school is driving an Audi, and you can't afford to change your own car's radiator. But the first lesson in adulthood is learn to accept responsibility for your decissions.

Maybe the school model should cange; maybe instead of immediately forcing the students to choose a career after High-school graduation, there should be programs to let them experience the real world first.—Maybe even a little travelling.—So you'll be 19-year-old freshman, so what?? There's this obsession to rush into college and finish as quickly as possible, so you can afford a house mortage in your mid 30's, and by the time you hit 63 you're ready to enjoy your golden years in Boca Raton.

Well, the way I see it these next generations are going to enjoy the health of a 50-year-old by the time they enter their 70s, thanks to medical advances. So why don't they make use of that time? They are going to be working 15 years more than their parents anyway, or do you really think the governments are going to keep the retirement age permanently fixed?

June 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

I'm so delighted to see this from you, MB. As a programmer and somewhat adept writer with 13 years experience in corporate America, I am sick to death of inept "higher educated" peers at my places of work.

You speak the truth, should run for office as Goddess Supreme of Education and FIX our country's ludicrous education system. Vocational studies should be just as important as academic, here, yet we villainize such programs and teach that villainy to our children!

June 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLiteraryAlchemist

I agree about college. It's not for everyone; indeed, here in Milwaukee some of the college students cannot grasp how to cross a street even with the fancy degree. A piece of paper with your name on it does not equal intelligence.

However, I have to quibble about FBOFW. I *totally* wanted Anthony and Liz to end up together...it's my favorite strip and I am so sad it's winding down... :(

June 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAmy P.

Here, here! I'll toast to this fine example of What We Need More Of, MB. Ironic that they call it 'higher' education, isn't it? Most of the time, the only thing that's 'higher' afterwards is the graduate's nose in the air.

People like your father (and mine) who run small businesses are my heroes, because they've got that something special you can't learn in a classroom--no matter how many 'higher' degrees you have.

June 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterj.s.

A toast from me, too! From the wife of a non-degreed IT guy who makes about 3 times what I made with a Master's degree. I totally crave knowledge - would love to be a full time student - but that won't pay the bills....

June 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnother Southerner

Thank you MB for validating me! I took a lot of crap for not sending my HS Graduate son off to traditional college or even a puny little community college, but I told him continually from 9th grade on that he needed to get his butt in gear and he SO didn't. In fact, they held his cap and gown hostage on graduation day until he turned in his last English assignment.

So his butt is sitting in a tech school at this very moment qualifying to be a medical technician and he's damn lucky to have that. I love that kid with all my heart, but I didn't buy into that college degree party line. 90% of my family does not have a sheepskin to tack on our wall and all of us have done quite nicely on natural smarts and hard work.

June 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAdrian

Our public schools are trying to make every student take an AP class or two just to say that they have a high percentage of students taking AP level classes. It kind of reminds me of Disney's Incredibles: If everyone's special, no one is.

June 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterheatherw

I'm torn on my opinion of this topic... as a recent HS graduate, I did feel that students were pressured to either 1) go to college, or 2) not, and figure out something else to pay the bills and start life. the sucky part is having to decide RIGHT THEN what you want your career to be. unfortunately, I did go to college to stall time, and did waste some time and money... but hopefully will graduate in 5 years with an RN license. I feel that sometimes there are some positions that are requiring more credentials (ie, administrative assistant, and no offense to that position) ... for the sole purpose of requiring more credentials, instead of on-job training.

to add an example of the good things of not going to college, my fiance graduated from HS early and started in his grandfather's ironworking business. He has an impressive salary, and only has to take two-night a week tech classes for ~3 years. He was able to buy a house on his own at age 19. the work is tough, but something he likes, and makes it all worth it when he's able to support himself--and not have to spend time in more school.

July 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjess
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