Pitfalls of Education 5/8/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

Things began to change even in the midst of my undergraduate studies.  I noticed it first with my grandmother.  I was studying chemistry, and even in my extended family the highest college degree anybody had achieved was a two-year associate’s degree.  Not that I didn’t have successful family, but they were all self-taught. 

Occasionally, I would call my grandmother, but our conversations became shorter every time until, eventually, they amounted to one sentence from my grandmother, “nice to hear from you, talk to you again soon.”  I asked my mother about it.  She told me that since I was getting a college education, she was afraid that she had nothing to say to me. 

It hurt.  I was still the same person, and I never expected anybody to have the same interest in chemistry and science that I did (and still do), but just by the nature of my going to college I was ostracized by my family. 

As the luster of college wears out in favor of technical training and certificates, there are still many students interested in pursuing formal degrees and for good reason.  But there are drawbacks, and as much as I would love to say that I have the answer on how to bypass them, I really do not.  There are friends and family when you’re in college who will pull away.  That’s just reality.  Unless you come from a family with a lot of education, which I did not, people will become nervous of saying things to a college student for fear of sounding uneducated.  I had friends who never worried about this, and I did get new friends from college, but it’s something unexpected that can, and for me did, happen.

A few days ago, I was watching a live discussion with a couple of young men who have started their own tech company.  They put together boards and training programs primarily to educate people.  In the discussion, one of the young men said something about being into programming and circuitry since he was in middle school.  This sounded familiar to me as it was middle school when I decided that chemistry was my focus.  I commented on the thread that there are drawbacks to being so focused at such a young age.

He picked up on my comment and said he wondered what those drawbacks could be.  So of course, I followed up, explaining that because I was so focused on chemistry, I missed out on many opportunities to learn about things outside of my discipline because I just didn’t see the point to it.  By the time I graduated, my world was nowhere near as broad as it should have been for an educated man. 

After graduation, I tried to pick up on literature, art, music, history, sociology and more that I could have learned about in college.  It’s not that you have to learn about all of these disciplines, but those courses that people who are too focused tend to ignore has the net effect of expanding the world for the graduate. 

Education is a marvelous opportunity, and for those with a dream, I do recommend it, but only if you have a life goal.  Always major in something that helps promote the life that you want, not a degree for the sake of a degree.  I was talking with another young woman who will be going to college next year who decided she would major in business.

Majoring in business is a terrible idea.  Well, no, it isn’t.   But it is.  Business is the liberal arts degree of my day.  So many people graduate with business degrees that having just a business degree won’t help the graduate to stand out when looking for jobs.  What I recommended to this young woman is to decide what it is, precisely, that she wants to do with that business degree and either get a minor, or better still a major, to give her a boost in that direction.  If she wants to work in zoos, for example, a minor in biology would help.  But with nothing but a major degree, chances are she’ll get nothing out of college but debt. 

And, yes, debt is another major drawback to education.  When I went to college, it was inexpensive and college loans were very low interest and usually no interest until five years after graduation with a plethora of job opportunities that included loan payback offers for minimum work commitments.  Those days are gone, so be careful.  Major in something that will give you the life that you want, with good employment opportunities in the places where you want to live.  And don’t be surprised by what might come your way.


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