Monday, June 11, 2012

The Post-Education Education Post

The inspiration for today's post comes from three sources:

1. The quote that accompanies this post is the lyrics to 'Education' by Pearl Jam. This song comes up on my regular rotation, and it always gets me thinking about my own education and, as Eddie says, if it's 'who I am now'.

2. A joke that's been haunting me for my young adult life: What's the difference between an English Major and a large pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four. That didn't even make me laugh the first time I heard it.

3. 20+ years of various forms of education.

In August, it'll be my 2-year university graduation anniversary. Two years ago, I would have told you I'd be famous by now. I likely wouldn't have meant it, but I still had the security of a student who's future was wide open. Well, the future is now, and it's growing smaller every day.

I have a Bachelor of Arts as an English Major. What does this title mean? Currently, it's just something I say in cover letters and interviews, hoping that it'll be the magic keyword that my potential employer needs to hear. What it really means is that I'm an expert bullshit artist. Mathematicians and scientists can't look at a problem and solve it by simply saying the right words.

An English Major has a whole language to manipulate in order to find his or her answer. In math and science, a wrong answer is wrong. In English, a wrong answer pretty much always depends on who's marking the paper. Having a Bachelor of Arts as an English Major also means that I can be punctual, work with others, meet deadlines, read and write, and express myself intelligently. That doesn't sound so bad does it? And finally, the BA means that when I'm 40, I'll probably still be making student loan payments. But the education will last my entire life, right? ....right?

Knowing what type of learner you are dramatically increases the chance of enjoying your education. This might be a no-brainer, but learning about subjects that I'm interested in (anything to do with writing, philosophy, and the arts) is incredibly easy for me. And learning about subjects that I have absolutely no interest in is painfully difficult. This is why I've always been able to achieve As and Bs in English, but barely made it out of Grade 11 Biology. I've always considered myself to be a 'B student' in every aspect of the phrase. If I try the amount that comes naturally, getting a B on a paper or project is simple. The A grade has been more elusive, however, and this can be blamed on many things, none of which I'll get into now.

I was on my first school bus when I was three years old. I spent my childhood in a small town just outside of Toronto, Ontario, and back then (not sure about nowadays), they had Junior Kindergarten and Senior Kindergarten. My birthday is in October, so that meant I was three years old, already in school. I have mostly fond memories of elementary school. I remember actually enjoying the idea of learning, having a lot of friends, and regularly playing doctor with the girls in my grade. Good times.

Skip ahead to high school. I don't think anyone is under the illusion anymore that high school is about gaining an intelligent education. It's a social experiment, at best. At worst, it's a place of daily torture, sexual confusion, and suicidal thoughts. In high school, learning was something I had to do, I had a few close friends that stuck with me, and my imaginary doctor's office had to shut down due to lack of business. Beyond the facade of gaining an education, high school taught me how to interact with others, how to categorize and judge people, how to manipulate and bend the truth, and how to appear interested when I'm bored enough to pull my ears off. It's an admittedly bleak image of high school life, and I don't doubt for a second that there are others out there who loved their high school experience, but I'm not one of them. I can look back on it fondly now, only for the following reasons: I'm still best friends with Corlin Rosewater, who I met in Grade 10, I discovered that being an English Major was an actual option, and I could get away with just about anything back in those days. The joys of teenage innocence.

It was my high school English teacher, Sanderson, who convinced me to go to college. He was my English teacher all throughout high school, and he is one of those rare forms of educator who actually cares to make a difference, and isn't afraid to tell the brutal truth if it means opening up a kid's mind. At the time, my plan was finish high school and just go be a famous writer. That easy right? Sanderson changed my mind about that, which led to me enrolling in college. My college days were boring and simple, not much to discuss there.

From college, I enrolled in university as a declared English Major. Again, I wasn't planning on going to university. My girlfriend at the time, a Spanish firecracker who was studying BioChem, was the one who convinced me to go to the same university at her. She had this image for us that never materialized. She informed me of this magical program called Student Loans, where the government gives you money towards school, and you pay them back...later. Well, later is now, and I'm paying.

No one really takes you seriously when you tell them you're studying English. About a thousand times, the response would be 'oh, so you're going to be a teacher?' No, I'm not. I want to be a writer. Most people react positively, thinking that it's cool and courageous to say you have such a ludicrious career goal. Underneath that reaction was the inevitable 'I'll believe it when I see it' thought. I still haven't proven those people wrong, unfortunately.

I have generally positive memories about my university experience. It was a great feeling to be part of that community, I met some fascinating people, I was turned on to some amazing literature that I never would have found on my own, and I actually did learn a thing or two. The school work itself was full of pressure, uncertainty, and sacrifice, but the moments before or after class are the times worth remembering. And, arguably, it was watching the sea of people around me that taught me the most. Also, I had the pleasure of being taught by some passionate professors who actually gave a damn about teaching. Of course, there were the bores, the jerks, the stand-up comedian wannabes, but there were a few professors who helped mold my intellectual tastes and who I am now. Finally, university is where I met my girl, ChinaCat Sunflower. In a rhetoric class. Super boring subject matter leads to an always exciting relationship, who would have thought.

So I did the reading, wrote the papers, spent countless hours on the bus, took the early classes, took the late classes, took the pointless electives that some suit upstairs deemed necessary (geology, really?) for an English degree, met the deadlines, participated in the discussions, and earned my Bachelor of Arts. A lot of work for a line on my resume, it seems. But I now have the honour of calling myself 'educated'. And I honestly do feel better for it. My ability to critically think, to discuss, to understand subtext and language and the formulation of an argument, to call upon references from my reading, all of that might not be as strong, or even exist, if I had stopped at high school graduation.

I often wonder where my life would be now if I had taken my high school diploma and went right into the full-time labour force. Sure, I have a university education, but my friends have jobs and their own living spaces and a steady paycheque. If I had dedicated myself to a more applicable type of education, like a sport or a science or a trade, I wouldn't be in this situation, would I?

Hopefully, when I'm standing in a bookstore staring at my own work (which is where you'll find me all day every day when I get a novel published), I won't be as doubtful about my choices. I was born with a talent for writing, but post high-school education enabled me to control, exercise, and master that talent. In the kind future where I am a famous writer, I won't think twice about skipping the full-time labour route for a university education, massive student loans, and this period of unemployment that I'm currently enduring.

Even if my wildest dreams don't come true, I hope to one day come to terms with my education and be confident that it was better to learn and be nothing for a while than be something my entire life and not have learned a thing. There is a middle ground there to explore, but sometimes the poetry of a sentence overpowers the logic. The middle ground (self-taught labourers who are in fact intelligent), is a topic for another day.

1 comment:

  1. Chesster, one day you *will* be looking at your work on display for purchase by reading audiences - but this won't be at a bookstore! Unless by bookstore you mean electronic database for e-novels. :P

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