Sunday, August 26, 2007

wut kollidge lernt me

Whilst flipping through the radio stations in search (vainly) of non-suck entertainment, I came across a commercial advertising this tutoring system designed to prepare your kids to get into the best colleges. It got me to thinking…what makes a college a “good school” or one of “the best schools”?

Seemingly, the main criterion for being a Good School is a hefty price tag.

Last time I checked, a school must be accredited in order to operate and to bestow a degree upon its graduates. And since all these schools receive the same accreditations, in my eyes that makes all of these schools equal. I mean, a BA in Communications from Boston University is the same BA degree that you can get from the College of Charleston. You can have a degree from Harvard Law and still be a shitty lawyer, while a really great attorney could just as easily have a degree from the University of Maine.

Personally, I hated college. I started college at the ripe old age of 24, after loafing for 2 years after a 4-year enlistment in the US Army. I chose to major in Criminal Justice, since I’d been a Military Policeman. To me it made sense; go with what I knew. Little did I realize that I’d be so bored sitting in classes with immature, unworldly 18 year olds who cared for nothing more than partying, cheap beer, and even cheaper dope that I’d come to hate college as a waste of my time and money. I also hated the System, too, for many, many myriad reasons. Aside from learning how to plan out 24-hour patrol coverage by precincts in my Police Management II course, and how to write a brief on a legal precedent in Constitutional Law, my course load was a joke, full of shitty filler classes that they claimed were required, but were really just designed to take my money and fill the university’s coffers. A basic math refresher course, a useless English class on creative written expression that saw me getting graded A+ on FIRST DRAFTS (let alone a finished project), a dry-as-toast Technical Writing course that the professor swore would make us able to write grants to scam money to fund our world travels, and a speech course that turned an entire class against me because I was already adept at public speaking and they could barely form a coherent sentence on paper, let alone memorize it.

So what did I learn in college?

1. All they cared about was whether you paid your bill on time.
2. Unless you were an athlete helping the school make money, you were a second-class citizen.
3. If you were on the “commuter campus” taking a 2-year degree program and not a 4-year money-maker, you were forgotten about.
4. If you lived off-campus and weren’t paying exorbitant rates to live in a concrete-walled dorm cave and using a meal plan to eat shitty cafeteria food, you didn’t matter. Sorry kids, but after 4 years of barracks life and Army chow, there was no way in Hell I was gonna live on campus.
5. My education was obsolete the second I took a final exam. When I tried to sell back an overpriced textbook at the end of the semester and was told that the book was obsolete, I then asked if my education was also obsolete and could I please be refunded my money for the course? That garnered a seriously dirty look from The System.
6. One of my “research” papers fetched an easy 20 bucks for about an hour’s worth of work. Would have been 30 minutes but I had to dumb-down my writing to match the girl who paid me to do it.

How many people do you know actually use their degrees? I know a guy with a degree in business management who has a CDL to drive a fire truck in his volunteer department and operates a robotic machine in a paper mill making toilet paper. Another friend has a degree in electrical engineering and drives a milk truck. Another person I know has a degree in elementary education and has never taught, instead staying home and squirting out babies to avoid working. I knew a girl in the Army with a degree in Political Science who drove trucks all day transporting M-1 Abrams tanks around Germany.

When I was in high school everyone thought that going to college was the end-all, be-all. Well, 20+ years ago, not everyone could afford college and having a higher education was a big deal, and it generally was a boon to getting a higher-paying job. Somehow that all changed about the time I ended high school. Now, so many people have degrees that there’s a huge (and I mean MASSIVE) surplus of recent college grads with degrees that they can’t get jobs in because of the competition for the few jobs available. Fully 25% of Americans have a degree by the time they’re 25, according to some sources. A university degree was a rarity in the United States as recently as the 1940s — only 10 percent of Americans had even gone to college and 75 percent hadn’t even finished high school. And those lucky or privileged enough to attend university actually left school with real knowledge and skills.

Nowadays, you have guys with Masters Degrees working at Wendy’s. Sure, certain professions require a degree, such as being an attorney or a doctor, but again, most people I know with business degrees or ones in English Lit or History are doing nothing even remotely close to what they studied for several many thousands of dollars. Money well-spent, indeed. And I won't even talk about Art History. I’m not saying don’t go to college. But don’t think that college is gonna solve everything or guarantee you a decent job, either. Go for the right reasons, and go with open eyes as to how bad the system is gonna screw you.

President George W. Bush has a history degree from Yale and an MBA from Harvard, and yet, well to listen to him you’d think he dropped out of junior high. Jeffrey Skilling has a degree in applied sciences from Southern Methodist University and during his admissions interview for Harvard Business School, he was asked if he was smart, to which he famously replied, "I'm fucking smart." Skilling earned his MBA from Harvard in 1979, graduating in the top five percent of his class. It seemed to have turned out well, since he is currently doing 24 years for screwing hundreds of his Enron employees out of millions of dollars. Pretty fucking smart, Jeff.

A 2005 study by the U.S. Department of Education showed that only 25% of college graduates were “proficiently literate,” that is, “using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” So 75% of today’s college graduates are just sitting in certain classes for a certain amount of time, and paying an ass of money for a piece of paper that says they’re smart, when they can barely read & write literate English.

I dropped out of college carrying a 3.67 GPA. That's pretty much an A average. I recently wrote a term paper for a dear friend who needed a hand with a pain in the ass professor, and never having taken the course in question and not having stepped foot in a classroom since about 1995, my paper got my friend an A. Not bad for a rusty old dropout, if you ask me. Some of the smartest people I know and with whom I carry on the most intellectual conversations are also college dropouts. My buddies John and Chris are, like me, college dropouts, and I’d put their intellects up against just about anybody’s.

Einstein sucked at math. Bill Gates is a college dropout and it looks like he kinda did okay for himself. Richard Branson, who owns the rest of the universe that Gates doesn’t, dropped outta high school, not even college. Other notable dropouts include Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, and a guy named Anton van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch guy who was the first microbiologist and who discovered little things via his microscopes like bacteria, blood cells, and sperm cells.

It seems I’m in pretty decent company after all.


jms1 said...

For those who don't know me, yes- I'm the John he mentions as being a college drop-out. Truth be told I'm not actually a "drop-out" so much as a "never-went"... I took a few computer courses to burn off my GI Bill money and get access to the internet back in 1992.

In a very similar vein, what I find amazing are these "certifications" that all of the major companies in the IT industry seem to want to sell you, and the fact that many companies' HR departments (who know nothing about the IT industry) just look for certain combinations of letters- Microsoft's "MCSE" (which may as well mean "Microsoft Certified Solitaire Expert") and Cisco's "CCNA" are both very popular, as well was the more generic "A Plus" certification.

Before I started my current stint of doing independent consulting work, the last "full time job" I had was running the servers and routers for an ISP here in Florida. One of the ISP's clients was a company which was big enough that their systems and network guy had a "CCNA" certification- the Cisco Certified Network Associate. I've seen the books involved in studying for this test, and supposedly it's one of the hardest certification tests out there. Part of what you MUST KNOW in order to get this certification is how to configure BGP, which is the language that the "big routers" that control the backbones of the internet use to exchange routing information with each other.

And their network guy, with his CCNA, told his company to pay for me, with no certifications at all, to come out to their site and set up a very simple dual-uplink BGP configuration. (The ISP that I was working for was their existing uplink, and they had just gotten a second T1 line from another provider.)

That's just ONE example- I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to fix scripts written by other "web programmers" because they either didn't work, or they were not written securely and spammers were relaying their garbage through the script.

I guess I'm saying that college degrees aren't the ONLY worthless pieces of paper out there...

Gretchen said...

As a parent of kid NOT headed to college while most of his fellow students are, I'm constantly pointing out to him the myriad of jobs for which a degree is not needed. Somehow kids seem to have gotten the idea that you either can't get a job without a degree or any job you can get without a degree is not worth having. Yeah, Bill Gates gets mentioned a lot in our house.

BTW, I was pretty shocked to learn that the Ivy league schools give out predominantly grades A and B because if they give out a C (or lower), their customers aren't happy.