"be gone, j. evans pritchard, ph.d.!"

which is better: education or experience?

united states universities in the late 1800s looked very much like the boarding school portrayed in the film dead poets society, where students file into class, sit alphabetically, and recite latin conjugations or mathematical formulas. universities in this country today do not still look like that for a variety of reasons, like, oh say, perhaps it was so boring that no one, not even the teachers, could stand themselves. but consider also that with the industrial revolution, it was suddenly blatantly ineffective preparation for whatever the student would be graduating out into. at some point, those university students were graduating as full-fledged elitists, and probably almost entirely useless in the business world that had exploded while they were busy dancing in a cave in the middle of the night and writing poetry on a playboy centerfold (no, playboy would not have been part of the experience in that late 1800s, but you know what i mean... and if you don't catch the reference, what exactly were you doing in the 1980s that was more important than keeping up with all the great coming-of-age movies?). i know we all joke about how little our education now does to prepare us for whatever is next, but we are also all vaguely aware of the statistics linking income with level of education.

npr this morning mentioned the california race for governor already pits a billionaire businesswoman against a stanford professor. so... education or experience? i remember thinking getting a college education would be the key to breaking my father's family's blue-collar legacy (between my father and his brothers, they cover machining, sanitation, and mechanic's mechanic... their father was in charge of golf-course maintenance, and my grandparents both came from farming families), but i also remember feeling betrayed by my lack of the experience it seemed every employer on the planet wanted me to have before giving me a job. watching it the other way around, i have 2 teenagers in the house with much more experience in business than i had at their ages who can't get any farther than they already are (specifically, in the service industry and its quick lay-offs in recession), in part because neither has a single piece of paper that includes both his name and a fancy college seal (the academic process has never excited either of them). deep in my parental head, i'm singing the chorus "where do we go from here?" from "once more, with feeling" (buffy episode 107).

for our teens, the school/work conflict is experientially enhanced. consider:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In damp Alabama, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge grows close scrutiny,
Where manual labor makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the paternal loins of these two bros
Education-level differences enhanced their strife;
Whether to work or study, their parents arose
With different opinions of this part of life.
But in these hard times, neither seems to prove
Better suited to weather this recession stage.
So the brothers, torn, wrestle with their next move,
In this difficult time they've come of age;
Our hope for them, their dependent ears attend,
Would be to follow opportunities until their end.

both boys are working on getting back into school, but i'm sure it is a hard decision for them, comparing the two households' differing approaches to existence that the boys have had the opportunity to observe, experience, and then evaluate. in one, there are 2 college-educated adults who are years later finally seeing the struggle let up just a little, and in the other, 2 hard workers whose not-making-it-really-at-all the boys were too young to see as part of the almost 2 decades of sacrificing family time that has turned into roughly the same place.

some with education never use it, and some without it get farther than those with it. this is not to say, of course, that college is the only way to become educated. we all know some friend or relative or coworker that is brilliant, even though he or she was lucky to finish high school, if even that. i guess the real question is whether it really matters if you get a degree or not. i'm not ready to pretend to have an answer. if the business world had an answer, employers wouldn't revise their job requirements every few years to add or remove an education requirement. as far as the after-work world, i guess it depends then on who you want to impress with what.

as far as the boys, is it going to hurt them to be in school for a few more years, when jobs are hard to come by and government assistance is available, on the slight chance that a degree might help them gain access to something someday? i say, of course not! but i'm also hyper-aware of the fact that in their interim, while they look around for jobs that may or may not exist, they still live at home, with us.

and as for me? i'm working on my graduate degree, because its what works for me. i believe it is part of the path of my self-creation. i want to be educated, and college demands dedication to intellectual pursuit much more than my desire alone. i think for sure i care more now than i did ten years ago, and am so grateful for the opportunity to be in classes again.

do i think education is important? vital.
do i think a degree is the only way to get educated? of course not.
do i think degrees open doors? certainly.

do i think degrees are necessary?
it all depends on what you are after.