Thursday, March 12, 2009
More about college
A hearty thanks to everyone who took the time to outline their philosophies on higher education. My own outlook on the topic has been somewhat refined, I have to say. For me, college is not a have to, but rather, a should. Whatever form it takes, I truly believe that a few more years spent exploring the concept of adulthood is not time wasted but rather, invested.
I probably come to this opinion based mostly on my own personal experiences. I am the first on my father's side of the family to go to college (although my father did attain technical certifications in adulthood). I grew up in a blue collar family that was just a half generation removed from the poverty of the Appalachian foothills; I say "half generation" because my father used an outhouse until he moved to Detroit at age 15. His own father--my beloved Papaw--worked on an assembly line punching out auto parts for 25 years in an era when job loyalty was rewarded by a system of perpetual support (pension and stock dividends) that no longer exists. He raised his family on these excellent benefits, then watched in despair as his own sons joined the industry just a few years too late to harvest the crop of "25 and out" jobs that factories and service industries used to be able to provide for their workers.
The willingness to simply put in your time was no longer enough for a man to truly provide for his family, my grandfather decided. An illiterate farmer who was denied the opportunity of an education in favor of providing labor to support his mother, siblings and ne'er do well father, my grandfather was no fool. He saw that the engineers and the designers and the folks who wore ties weren't worrying over the braces on their kids teeth or when they might save up enough to buy a home big enough to house their growing families. They also weren't the guys breathing in coal dust in the mines, losing fingers in machines or being bent under the weight of stoop labor in fields.
"You need one of them college papers," he used to tell me. "You go on and get you one, and won't nobody ever look down on you."
And he was mostly right. I got one of those papers; it's in my attic, filed in the big plastic bin of things I never unpacked when we moved in six years ago. I won't say that I've been immune to criticism or economic downturn. But something else happened in those four years that I spent a the large, state-run university I chose. My perspective on the world got wider.
I was a marginal Christian went I went to school (good enough to teach Sunday School, apparently!). I was also a spoiled brat. A big fish in a small pond. And more than a little cocky.
I probably could have come out of college exactly as I went in, but I didn't. God used that time to turn me around, to give me direction, to introduce me to the love of my life, to expand my horizons beyond California on the west and New York on the east ... and to begin in me the process of true discernment.
I had to make choices. And they had consequences. Some were good (work three jobs+no sleep=tuition & rent paid!). Some were bad (drive for six hours to D.C. + watch show in night club=miss chem lab in the morning). I had roommates who were not related to me and didn't give a crud what my motivations were. I had teachers who invested in me, and those that didn't. I had bills to pay, jobs to finish and a life to launch.
And I had four years to sort it all out.
I won't say that I don't regret a single moment of my college education. But I will say that I see God's hand in it so clearly that there's no way I could ever want to take it back. I went in a child. I came out ready to be a Child of God.
I don't for a second believe that those who eschew college in favor of entering the job force or establishing a business are destined to failure. And nowadays, not going to college doesn't necessarily mean a factory job, manual labor or even being employed by someone else at all. Heck, my best friend didn't go to college. Her husband also decided to forgo higher education. Aside from the fact that I don't envy the burden of maintaining one's own health insurance, the difficulty of running both a business and a family and not getting any paid vacation, I think that the big picture looks pretty good. It works for them. They're happy. Enough said.
But for me, personally, I think I'll keep encouraging my kids in the direction of college. Our preference is that they attend a Christian school and live somewhat nearby. If they choose not to go, then hey, that's o.k. It's not as if Mr. Blandings and I plan on footing the bill (we both paid our own way, and feel that it actually enriches, rather than detracts from the experience). We'll guide, we'll recommend, we'll pray and we'll support. That's our job. We're parents.
The job doesn't stop when they enter kindergarten, high school, college, the mission field, the job market, or marriage. That's the joy, isn't it?