Educated: A manifesto in 3.5 parts

PROLOGUE

Q: Why did the robber rob the bank?

A: Because that’s where the money was!

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 I.

Something is up with my damned grad school student loan. I went online to pay my monthly dues and the balance is reading as zero. A couple tens of thousands, wiped fully clean. I am not behind on payments, so it can’t have been sent to collections. So what’s up? For a brief and wonderful moment, I entertained the fantasy that a generous, anonymous benefactor had taken pity on me and my nobler accumulation of debts. And then I perused the fine print and realized that the loan has likely been sold. Again. And that whoever it is I now owe scads of cash to will surely find me soon enough.

Ah, money. Ah, college. One of these things is a non-negotiable reality of middle class life, my sister and I agreed as we lamented over our sizeable graduate school debts and how we might well reach the ends of full-term lives without coming close to paying them off.

She is a DC-trained lawyer who recently chucked her unsatisfying government job to become a doula.

What is the value of a college education these days? I have six years of higher education under my belt, most of it in the field of writing, but I feel most of the time the value is of the uncountable variety. I am well rounded, yes, and I have excellent grammar, and I don’t miss deadlines, and I can work a crossword puzzle like it’s going out of style, and I beat pretty much everybody I know at Jeopardy.

I am also somewhat broke and peptic. And, like, the only person I know who doesn’t own a house or a drive a not shitty car or have in my living room at least a second-hand sofa. Friends and family, in their generosity, refer to my freewheeling lifestyle as “bohemian.”

But that feels sorta like being declared the World’s Tallest Midget.

I like my lifestyle, and I chose it for a reason, but the question is: if I wanted to be a poor writer, surviving on my wits and my high sense of purpose and gallon after gallon of homemade hummus, couldn’t I have found a way to do so without sinking such piles of non-existent money into the endeavor?

I don’t know. I don’t want to discount the value of education. I freaking love college. And I’m really good at it. I’ve even been applying lately to teaching posts at local colleges just so I can hang out there a bit longer. College feels to me like a large, squishy, milky bosom, except it squirts out books instead of milk and there are tons of quiet places to read and cool lecture halls and live music and people who don’t look at you sideways when you say, “It was I,” instead of “It was me” (because that’s grammatically correct) or make a (totally non-pompous) reference to a line of poetry in regular conversation. I dig that!

And it bothers me incredibly when uneducated smart people try to take educated smart people down a peg by dismissing the rigors of academia as mere parlor games, the haughty preserve of the rich and the lucky and the foolhardy. If anything, we need more education. Critical thinking skills are sorely lacking in general society. People act like assholes and base their moral decision-making on little more than emotionalized feedback loops and the world suffers for it.

I love the emphasis on lifelong learning and critical thinking that higher ed represents. It’s just that I now owe the federal government unconscionable scads of money for the privilege of exposure to these high-falutin values during my formative years.

So. More and better education, but with one proviso: we shouldn’t lose our figurative and literal shirts in the process of getting it. What a freaking racket!

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 II.

My four-year-old niece Sawyer was sitting there with my sister and I, too, for this conversation, counting out a pile of change, so we had her weigh in. A few excerpts from our talk:

You know what college is?

No.

It’s where you go and study and learn new things.

But mommy I don’t wanna be away from you for really long.

 What do you want to study in college? What would be a fun job? You could be someone that draws tattoos on people or a doula.

I wanna be a fire truck. And Emery could be a policeman. 

Why do you wanna be a fire fighter?

Not a firefighter just a firetruck.

What would a fire truck do?

It would beep so hard.

What else? Where would it go?

To a fire parking lot.

Why do you wanna be a fire truck?

Because I wanna go in the fire parking space.

And what would you do when you got there?

Um. Put the fire out.

Sawyer, how much would you want to pay for college?

We should pay all these ones. (pointing to the pile of money.)

How much is that? (Sawyer hands me a dime and seven pennies.)

Says Rye: That’s about how much my law school was worth.

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 III.

I’ve been trying to decide lately whether it is pompous or merely celebratory to hang up one’s diplomas on an office wall. I’m leaning toward “Yes, yes it is very pompous, actually,” and both my mine are wrinkled, grody messes at this point besides.

To wit: bachelor’s diploma has a giant coffee stain on it, courtesy of my bosses in South Korea, Mr. Khang and Mr. Kim, who insisted that the diploma be sent to the peninsula ahead of me for processing purposes and then did God knows what to it. They certainly didn’t bring it to the immigration office for visa purposes, as I discovered four months later when I attempted to go to the doctor for a recurring ear infection and learned that I had no health insurance because I was, officially, an undocumented worker.

Like me, my diploma is a bit weary for the wear. At least we’ve got character to show for our ordeals. That, at the very, very least.

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One thought on “Educated: A manifesto in 3.5 parts

  1. fulloffeet says:

    Erin, this blog is exactly what I needed to read right now. I’m about to take out about 200K for graduate school, and, as a backpacker, you start to equate that with 200K meals, 50K hostel beds, 100K hours of bus rides, etc. I’m panicking a little bit about it. It’s good to know that someone’s on the other side and still grateful for the choice that they made.. kinda. I do wish it cost 17 cents instead of 200,000 dollars though.

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