no more school? no more books?

Dont you just love...fall? It makes me want to shop for back to school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.
"Don't you just love...fall? It makes me want to shop for back to school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address."

As July draws to a close, and August rolls in on a heat wave, the college campus where I work is beginning, after a dormant summer, to bustle with activity.  Students are moving back to town– I saw a station wagon with a mattress strapped on top driving nearby while out on my lunch break.  Professors are starting to ask me, “How do you work the new copier again?” as they anticipate running off reams of syllabi to hand out to classes in a few short weeks.  It’s the time my dad used to call “the most wonderful time of the year,” a catchphrase he picked up from an old office supply store commercial, which featured parents singing and dancing in eager anticipation as their kids shopped for school supplies and prepared to be someone else’s problem for the majority of daylight hours.  My dad had something for a flare for the dramatic, and would re-enact the commercial, dancing down the aisles of the office supply store, riding his cart like a chariot, singing the usually-Christmas song, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”  Of course, my sister and I, sad to see our summer vacation come to an end, would roll our eyes and trudge through the store dejectedly.

Now I’m wondering what the hell was wrong with us.

Now, I don’t need a Facebook quiz to tell me I’m Hermione Granger.  I’m a hand-raising, answer giving, note taking, supernerd who thrived in school, loved making good grades, and just generally liked learning things.  I was good at school.  Still, I didn’t realize until oh, about a year as a post-college working stiff just how wonderful school is compared to “real life.”  The difference is all in the feedback loop.

In school, you regularly receive grades, so you know if you’re on track, if you’re doing well, if there are areas you need to improve on.  Moreover, if you’re a good student like me, most of the feedback you’re getting is very positive.  This is in no way true of most of my experience in the working world (until my current position, where I have the world’s best boss, which really makes all the difference).  Generally, in the working world, no one is going to say anything to you about how you’re doing until you screw something up.  The only time you’re going to get feedback is when someone has something negative to say about you and the way you do things.  You can show up on time, perform all your assigned tasks, and you’re not going to hear from anyone until the day some jerk gives you zero notice to pull something together and you miss a deadline for the first time in six months, and then, boy are you gonna HEAR ABOUT IT.  If you’re someone generally used to being the best, to being praised for your efforts, this is REALLY hard to take.  I’m beginning to see why some folks become the much-maligned “professional student.”

So, despite having graduated college 2-ish years ago, eager to throw off the shackles of academia and set foot into the world a free, adult woman, I find myself really missing school.  I miss racing to read through assigned texts and then sitting around tables discussing them in seminars.  I miss picking out paper topics, poring over journal articles, and churning out research papers, 4-5 pages per hour.  Yes– I wrote so many papers in college that I know exactly how long it takes me to write them, provided I’ve done my typically extensive prewriting process.  I miss school.  I was good at school.  With school I know who I am and where I stand and what I’m supposed to do.

Now, I’m sure some are saying, well, if you like school so much, why not just go back?  The problem is, I don’t know what I would go back to school to study.  Some days I dream of studying English, other days political science, others law school, and still others, social work.  Unlike my husband, who has always been relatively sure what he wanted to be when he grows up, I have reached the age of 24.5 and still have no idea.

So I’ve decided to dip my toe in the water.  As a college employee, I get to take one class free each semester, and so I’ve been admitted to the Graduate School as a nondegree student and will be taking a 500 level English course on 18th Century Women’s Writers this fall.  I’m eagerly sharpening my pencils and comparing prices on the texts.  Who knows, maybe if I like it, I’ll make that a DEGREE student.  Anyway, I just ordered myself a Moleskine academic planner, and if you listen very closely you can hear me singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Image via Flickr user Merelymel13 who just so happened to quote one of my favorite movies in the caption, prompting me to use that caption as well.

land of the free, home of the…educated?

John Adams, Founding Father and education advocate.  Image licensed under Creative Commons.
John Adams, Founding Father and education advocate. Image licensed under Creative Commons.

I’m reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, and one thing that has struck me again and again is how strongly Adams believed that education was essential to the success of the American system.  As a younger man writing about what he thought a government should be, Adams wrote:

Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.

Later, after the Revolution had ended and he began advocating for the type of government that would be instituted for the United States in its wake, Adams wrote:

Knowledge must become so general as to raise the lower ranks of society nearer to the higher. The education of a nation, instead of being confined to a few schools and universities for the instruction of the few, must become the national care and expense for the formation of the many.

Even at the end of the 1700s, Adams understood that the best way to lift people out of poverty was through education.  And Adams also fully believed that educated people not bogged down by poverty made the best citizens, able to be engaged with and participatory in our truly revolutionary system of democracy.

Over the years that followed, we sometimes lost our way.  Sometimes we were eager to say that there was nothing we could do to overcome poverty, because there was nothing we could do about poor people’s intelligence– it was just genetics, you see.  Maybe the best we could hope for was to give them welfare and other government assistance and hope for the best, but we’d always have poor people, and it was just a fact. Continue reading “land of the free, home of the…educated?”