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August 23, 2006



"Study what you love; the money will follow."

I didn't do that, and I'm paying for it now. I'm a scientist, but I'm not good at science in the abilty to comphrehend a situation and apply the solution there to a similar but different situation. I have a very good paying job, but I'm not good at it because I despise my subject. Because I despise my subject, I'm not willing to put in extra work/learning time, which brings my performance down. And let's not even talk about going to grad school in something you're not good at.

So I'm considering going back to school and getting an advanced degree in something I enjoy. And hopefully, now that I have a better idea of how the world works, I can set things up while in school to get a decently-paying job once I'm out.


(I can say I would not be crushed if a child of mine went to a JC for their first two years, but in all honesty, I would be a bit disappointed).

You have no idea how many people I "disappointed" when I chose to go to PCC. My parents gave me no other choice though, and laughed when I told them I was applying to Mount Saint Mary's. At school, many of my teachers thought that PCC was a "drop out" school and that I would be "bored" if I went there. I have to pay for half of my college education. I had to pay for my car. I buy my own books and clothes. It still angers me that my junior AP English teacher, who went to USC - paid by her parents - kept pushing me to go, somewhere, anywhere, than a JC. She had the best of intentions, but I felt like she was implying that I was settling below my abilities.

Looking back, I am so glad that I went to PCC! Heck, I met you, a great anthropology professor, tons of new friends with similar backgrounds and it's all pretty cheap! Every class I've taken has challenged me. And contrary to what many of my teachers thought, I have NEVER been bored.

I understand why you would feel disappointed, but if your kid chooses to go to a JC, please be mindful that they're making (in my opinion) a wise choice.


Just to balance things out, following the safe, careerist path doesn't always work out either. I was the good doobie who got the biology degree and took liberal arts electives. To make a long story short, I'm a graphic designer now and I'm glad I took the ceramics class, the deconstructionist theory class, the intro to anthropology.

Like you, Hugo, my parents have degrees from high-end universities and they paid for my not-so-useful scrap of paper. They urged me to get the safe degree, but they also supported my other interests and I'm thankful for that.

Technocracygirl, I came thisclose to being you and I want to encourage you to find a field that suits you better. And to any college kids out there -- your degree is not your life written in stone. Far from it.


I was raving to a friend about a related topic. Many people I know have the attitude that you get a degree to get a job. I attended a liberal arts college, got a great education, got a great liberal arts degree, breezed through grad school and I have a good job, but I don't work in "my field." My parents still ask when I'm going to work in "my field." As if my major in college is my fate. The idea that your major is pre-law, or business, or medicine, or whatever and that you choose a major solely to prepare you for a career strikes me as utilitarian and limiting. I have a friend who was a poli-sci major and is now and MD, another friend who was a Computer Science major and now runs an npo that houses the homeless. A mentor of mine majored in history and english, worked in advertising sales for a radio station and is now a well-known advocate for economic justice. The skills aquired in these people's education were transferrable - and they were the skills acquired in a liberal arts education.

Every job requires the ability to acquire, comprehend, analyze then communicate information. A passing familiarity with the scientific method makes my job easily manageable. The ability to communicate effectively and the confidence to do so come from my education.

Back in the day, when I was broke and working two jobs to make ends meet, my education immeasurably enriched my life. Simply being aware of what the world had to offer allowed me to live my life with greater personal peace. Even in the darkest days of my depression, I was able to draw on the resources of thousands of years of culture and get through my days; the library, free performances of performing arts groups, public museums were all resources for living my life more fully.

I think the mistake is pretending that we get an education for one reason - to get jobs. Yes, our education supports our jobs and helps us in the job market, but an education isn't solely career preparation. It's life preparation.


I guess we have given up on the idea of an educated and self aware populance as a good thing?

I have to say this particular entry, though a reprint, angers me. It seems an insult to all those, in California and elsewhere, who worked from the 1930's onward to give working people the belief that culture was not something given by how much money you had. I think of the dozens of "Workers libraries" across Wales, the communes of working men and women who organized shakespeare plays, classes, libraries so that tenured educators could decide decades on that because thier student works at Target they are living the life unfulfilled? The snobbery does not end at the shame of ones blood going to a JC.

I went to PCC because, 1) when I went it was the numnber 2 JC in the US and 2) because I wanted to live life deliberately - I wanted a place where I could work and take lots of classes and take off a semester to travel the world. When I attended, PCC attracted teachers who were a little eccentric, but passionate about thier subjects. I have attended the best schools since, and work with "world experts" at different universities but have never been able to duplicate the experience of a PCC geology class taking the photos from the tabloids "Alien landing stip on Mars" and actually working out what those geological structures were. I've never had another english course where the instructor talked about running the Iron Man Triathalon or a professor who pretended to be drunk the first in order to reduce class size. At PCC I took a philosophy course where I usually ended up running from the back of the class to the front to engage in a face to face shouting match with the teacher (something they tend not to encourage at oxford, Brown maybe). I cared about learning, it was important to me, and at PCC I found instructors, not so busy with institutional garbarge who cared about it too.

If you cannot understand the importance of a liberal education or have pride in the way PCC offers a multitude of avenues instead of a single, straight 4 year shot into acceptable parameters then go elsewhere. I went to a six year teaching program where I was the only person who knew sociology, and psychology - these newly minted teachers had never heard of Maslow's hierarchy of needs because it wasn't on thier superstreamlined courses - but it was on PCC. I went on to graduate school where in a class of 18th century lit majors, no one had read Dante's Inferno, or the Aeneid, or the Illiad - but I had, at PCC.

Other schools only trained me how to please instructors, PCC trained me how to love to educate myself. If that has no value to you, regardless of whether I am picking fruit or washing your car, then you should get out of the education business.


The importance of a liberal education is wonderful right up until you need to make a living. Obviously a degree isn't a guarantee of money, but--sorry, Hugo--educators who prattle on about 'study what you love and the money will follow' need a good punch in the mouth.

Instead of platitudes, how about practicalities? Money doesn't "follow" anyone. Encourage your students to find ways that what they love can dovetail with making a living. Stop pretending that the only worthwhile learning curve is the poverty line that runs to a PhD.


Speaking as a middle-aged liquor-store clerk with a master's degree and a book-lined study, I can honestly say that my education has enriched my living. I never asked it to provide me with a "living," so I haven't been disappointed, so why should anybody else be? Besides, I'm mostly an autodidact, anyway. My boss (liquor-store *manager) is in the same boat, with degrees from some-university-I-forget in Israel, Maryland and Dartmouth. We all use our education every day; some of us just don't whore it out for money. (And who says your education should be limited by your schooling?)

Get over your mercenary asses and respect those of us who regard learning as an end in itself. Some of the most on-fire-for-liberal-learning people I've ever known were middle-aged dropouts working behind the salad bar at Albertson's.


Even students who attend more prestigious universities and get degrees in marketable fields aren't guaranteed a job. Getting a good job requires basic skills, connections, and a willingness to work. Many of your students may have the skills and the willingness but not have the luxury of easy connections. I had friends who graduated with me from a well-respected private university who didn't know what their basic skills were and were't sure what they were willing to do. Even those with connections had some difficulties finding jobs. Coming from a lower socio-economic strata than many of my friends, the necessity of work while I was in school made it easier for me to begin life on my own, even with an English Literature/Art Education degree. :)

Learning doesn't only occur in classrooms or with books. People who are willing to learn as much as possible from life will always have a leg up on those who are depending on a scripted plan to get them through. Stay curious and work hard wherever you are and life will be easier and more interesting.


I find this whole thread depressing and not very constuctive. Hugo could you please clarify something for me? As a highly educated man from a highly educated family backround, do you think your opinions (and I respect that they are your opinions)on JC are, to say the least, not very educated and extremly narrow minded? There are people who have accomplished amazing things on grand scales without ever having attending college at all. To be condescending of JC and the people who attend it is, in my opinion, a very big academic flaw. Nobody knows what else was going on in the life of the graduate student working at Target. She may have been in grad school or maybe writing a book, the point is that it is not for anyone to say that by working at Target she has failed in some way. My path through education has been an extremly unique one, and because of that I have learned to appreciate all aspects of being a student, and it has never mattered what school I was attending because I have found educational value in the most unlikely of places.


Elizabeth, Professor Benton (whom I quote extensively) teaches at a private, four-year liberal arts college. I'm the one at the JC, and this musing about how well we prepare our students for "life" is not unique to any branch of higher education.

Neither Benton nor I are demeaning those who took an unusual path towards knowledge. We're both reflecting on ONE THING: what do we say to our students who come to ask us for life and career advice?


I wish my advisor had told me that nothing is carved in stone. I don't know what kids these days think about the school-college-career line of life, but I thought it was far more rigid than it actually is. Maybe that was because my parents' degrees were in their own fields. (They love their work, BTW, and I soon realized that that's a huge blessing to have in your life)


Hugo, I think there are many fellow educators such as myself who have struggled with some of these same issues. I do believe students are better off (intellectually) with a solid liberal arts education, but this may not pay off in practical (financial) terms, unfortunately.

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