Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Stay in school, or not

Right now, I'm watching Doctor Phil. For those of you not familiar with American daytime TV, Doctor Phil was the tough love family counsellor (or something) on Oprah. For those of you who haven't heard of Oprah, I hope you get out of that cave in Afghanistan soon.

Anyway, Doctor Phil is doing a show on teenage boys who are failing at school because they are convinced that they are going all the way to the pros at their favourite sports. It's a tie in with the new Samuel L Jackson movie about a high school basketball coach who locked the gym because his players were failing.

So, anyway, the message being hammered at these kids is "study hard, go to college, and then maybe you'll get a shot at the pros". But going to university is continually presented as the secret to being a successful adult.

Doctor Phil even said "otherwise, he's going to turn around when he's 25 and working in some minimum wage job with no future and say why didn't you make me study when I was younger?"

Well, I'm 24 and a half, working in some minimum wage job, and I went to unversity. I was good at it too (anyone who has met my mother in the last year will know that I got first class honours so I don't feel as bad about bragging).

These kids are failing 8th Grade (13 or 14 year old) Social Studies. If you ask me (and nobody did, but that's the beauty of blogging) their problem isn't that they dream of football stardom, their problem is that they are plain DUMB.

But anyway, the point of this rant was that university is not the secret to having a succesful life. If you're in high school and want to get rich then become a builder's apprentice. By the time you're 30, you can be self-employed, and earning more than all but the very top lawyers.

Basically, university is just a white-collar version of the NFL dreams that these kids had. That sounds harsh, but it's true, especially for those of us who study less useful subjects (and or just spend all day hanging round the Quad). Someone should tell the Baby Boomers that a university degree isn't a ticket to the gravy train any more. Or we can just tell our children not to listen to their grandparents.

I'm not saying university is a bad thing - I spent ten semesters at university and got two bachelors degrees and half a masters. I loved it, almost all the time, and will probably go back to get a PhD (or a D.Phil, if I can persuade someone to pay for me to go to Oxford). University is like disneyland for smart people.

But you have to want to be at university for its own sake. Not for the parties, not for the promise of a lucrative career in 4 years time, not because mum and dad want you to, but because you want to think and stuff.

OK, hands up who amongst you has seen the big glaring flaw in my argument?

That's right, I have a future, in theory at least.

Well, those of you who spotted that probably went to university, so congratulations, have a gold star.

I won't go into details about how university should be free, limited to the top 25% of people after first year, and restricted to people 20 and older (did I mention that I also support compulsory community service for a year or two out of high-school?) so that's about all.

Kids, as long as you have a real plan (and going to the NFL is not a real plan), then university is not necessary. Unfortunately, university is kind of used as a holding pen for all the kids without real plans (and I'll admit to doing that).

OK, something I clearly didn't learn at university is how to structure a short opinion piece (or even write something short). Well, I did, but it didn't override my natural talent for lengthy, poorly structured rants (maybe I should write speeches for politicians).

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