Sunday, May 22, 2011

Of Cars and Education; Things I Wish I Realized In College

A college education is like a car.  We own and use cars for a variety of reasons including (but not limited to):

  1. Travelling more efficiently (essentially reclaiming time)
  2. Getting to new places (Not entirely the same as reclaiming time—and that will make sense below).
  3. It is a requirement of where we live/work (Living in certain suburbs, it does become a practical requirement and some jobs do require or provide a vehicle).
  4. Cruising about to enjoy the sights (That is, merely enjoying the act of driving and what it offers).

Before any of that can happen though, one needs a license, first.  The license is a great achievement; it indicates some sense of competency in driving (This is the same with a high school diploma or GED certificate.).  It doesn’t imply you will automatically get a car or that you will be a masterful driver; but merely that the state has deemed you knowledgeable to drive a vehicle (The student has proven a certain level of competency but it doesn’t guarantee the opportunity to get a college education).  

Not All Students Start At the Same Place

However, just like when people get behind the wheel, not all drivers are equal (Not all students start off at the same place).  Some are great drivers; some are not.  Some need to pay extreme attention to all details of driving; others manage to consistently text and drive at the same time (Some people do well without trying; others don’t and need to devote even more time than the average student).  While some of this is within the driver’s control, a significant amount isn’t.  The driver will be influenced by how much time he or she had in training (Students—and often parents—who have put more time and energy into their education are more likely to have initially better results).  Her or his skills will be in part powered by how much her socio-economic forces helped her or him to be prepared for the driving environment (Students’ background can affect how prepared they are for college as well as how much actual time and resources they can dedicate to the endeavor).  Of course, there’s also a lot that is beyond the driver’s control.  The good driver is still subject to and influenced by a variety of structural forces such as police enforcement, roadway signage and lights, traffic flow, etc, and chance such as other negligent drivers, weather, car problems, etc (Even good students are going to be impacted by tuition hikes, mistakes made by school administrators, or faculty, schedule conflicts, etc) .  And finally, the driver is responsible for a variety of technical, bureaucratic, and financial upkeep in order to keep driving which includes renewing licenses, registering vehicles, filling the gas tank, getting/performing oil changes and other car maintenance, regular inspections, car insurance and the like (Students too need to consistently register, acquire books, check in with advisors, etc).

So let’s look at the reasons for getting a car (or college education.

1.  Travelling more efficiently (essentially reclaiming time)

    Drivers often own a car because it saves time; it frees them to do more things they want to do without using public transportation, their own legs, or other (perceived) slower modes of transporation.  However, a certain investment of time and money is needed in order to acquire the car that includes the aforementioned license, researching and purchasing a car, registering it, and the various financial and technical upkeep.  For some, this means having to work even more and cancelling out some of the reclaimed time.

    Students often look at college as an investment to improve their financial situation.  That is, this investment of work and effort should result in a larger return for their work.   Getting better paid means they can afford more things and or work less (get more out of less work is essentially reclaiming time). But students don’t often realize that this is an investment; which entails time, money, and risk.  There is no guarantee that education will result in improved financial opportunities (more on this later). 

2.  Getting to new places.

    Though this is similar to the above, it’s not exactly the same.  The above is generalized; a car will make coming and going to any place quicker.  But here, there is often a specific direction,  destination, or opportunities afforded to car-owners.  The car will allow one to go to drive in theaters, do a road trip, pick up hitchhikers, actually drive-through a drive through (granted, not all of these are glorious and exciting, but the idea is that the car opens up new places to you; even new associations such as AAA).  This could also be understood as car-culture and its possibilities.

    Similarly, students often approach their degree in these clear terms.  A teaching degree will allow me to teach; a business degree will open up positions in business.  But a degree, will also open up different opportunities and access a potentially different culture with its own set of expectations, restrictions, and prospects.  Again, the degree here is a potential door-opener, but not a guarantee.  A teaching degree won’t guarantee a teaching job will appear (or that you will be the most qualified applicant).  The degree opens up a student’s choices, but that doesn’t mean the opportunities will necessarily be there (or their degree alone will provide for them). 

3.  It is a requirement of where we live/work (Living in certain suburbs, it does become a practical requirement and some jobs do require or provide a vehicle).

    Some jobs require vehicles.  Often pizza delivery jobs require the person to have a car.  Taxi-cab drivers need a car (whether their own or companies).  In many suburbs, living without a vehicle is extremely difficult to the point of impossibility.  In this case, the car (or whatever vehicle) becomes central in order to properly perform the job.  Without it, the person is rendered useless or at least severely unqualified.

    Here again, the degree as a requirement to work can be seen within the nursing field and engineering.  Equally, some jobs require the degree within a certain amount of time of work; such as teachers being required to get their Master’s Degree within a few years of starting their job (if they don’t outright require it before they start teaching).

4.  Cruising about to enjoy the sights (That is, merely enjoying the act of driving and what it offers).

    Some people love to drive.  Put them in a car and they’ll go.  They’ll enjoy just the act of driving; in a car, moving about the roads; feeling the beautiful machinery at work under their fingertips; enjoying the breeze of movement.  To them, the mere act of driving is rewarding and pleasurable.

    At this level, these are students who appreciate the intellectual challenges and elements that college has to offer.  They see the apparatus (car/college) as means of stimulation and engagement with their own inner world.  For some, they are life-long learners and simply appreciate the ways in which college can play a role in that view.  For others, they learn within college what it means to be engaged with intellectually and realize how rewarding it can be.

    Granted, many see this last one as one that’s afforded to those who have the leisure and resources to merely focus on the act of self-enlightenment.  That is, within it, there are hints of classism.  I’m not entirely sure I believe that, or rather, it doesn’t have to be the case.  In fact, I would encourage students to always keep this measure at the back of their heads as they move through their education.  In the end, college is important and is hopefully useful in the first three ways, but can (and should) also be a time in which the student as a person develops and grows; learning not only about the world around them, but his or herself as well.