Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Column #26: Don't know much about astronomy - and that's OK

As I left class for the final time last month, I was filled with mixed emotions. At 36 years old, I probably should have been leaving the class that I had been teaching. Instead, some “interesting” life choices along the way had left me playing catch up on the road to conventional adulthood.

My iPod shuffle landed on “A New Life” by the Marshall Tucker Band, and it fed my confusion. My new life – marriage, domesticity, etc. – had led me back to college to complete a degree, as I now had a future that I could believe in. As such, graduating didn’t mean that I would be moving away, or leaving anyone behind.

Though I had spent the past two years with a regular crew of fellow students all pursuing the same courses, it certainly wasn’t the college experience as seen in “Animal House”. Occasionally, I would even need to turn down invitations to “study” with my colleagues at the New Albanian Brewing Company because, at the moment, I had other responsibilities that my 22-year-old peers did not share. (At other times, however, such “studying” was unavoidable).

I had tasted the classic college life the first time around, and it didn’t agree with me then. At 18, I had no interest in alcohol, and I was more likely to make a friend in a bookstore than in a frat. A suburban upbringing made me hungry to explore a big city, which left less time for classes. I had little interest in subjects that I didn’t enjoy – math and science – and indulged in elective classes such as Italian cinema.

While I continue to argue that my work since – game show winner, pop culture journalist – has benefited from studying the works of Fellini, Rossellini and De Sica, it didn’t help me get closer to an undergrad degree. Part of returning to school at 34 meant accepting the harsh reality that I still had plenty of non-fun classes left to fulfill.

Our mayor’s office wants to get 55,000 more Louisvillians to earn their degree in the next decade. As I have now done so, you’re welcome, folks – only 54,999 left. No one asked me to write about this; in fact, part of why I am writing is to complain about how I would like to see our higher education system overhauled.

I have 30-something friends who have told me that they won’t go back just because they don’t want to make up requirements in subjects that don’t interest them or benefit them. I don’t disagree with them. To my understanding, the point of receiving a general college education about many unconnected subjects is that most 18-year-olds don’t yet know what they’re good at, or what they enjoy doing.

For those “non-traditional” students who return to college past, let’s say, 25, who know that we want to be a nurse or an IT expert, can someone please start a college that doesn’t require us to learn a foreign language? Does a 43-year-old who wants to teach history need to go back to learn more about science?

Are there adults who can’t buy groceries or pay their bills just because they didn’t learn enough math by the time they left high school? (The answer: no). If your job requires a working knowledge of higher math, then let’s hope you already had such knowledge before your boss hired you.

I realize that this is all about money. However, many more people might give lots more money to whomever can give them a degree that doesn’t require spending three years on miscellaneous banalities.

The person who cuts my hair went to hair cutting school at 18, and has enjoyed a fruitful career of cutting hair since graduation from that school. She knows little about Astronomy, and is doing fine.

My college Spanish professor learned more about speaking Spanish by summering in Argentina than she did from a textbook. She probably also couldn’t tell you much about Astronomy.

c. 2011 Velocity Weekly

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