July 15, 2013

Dane Johnson: Why I'm here?

At my graduation ceremony, a classmate irreverently announced to the school that she was relieved to finally receive one of the most expensive pieces of paper she'd ever purchased. She was referring to her diploma.

Hearing it put so bluntly, I considered the time and money invested in pursuing this relatively valuable piece of paper and hesitantly asked myself, “was it worth its actual cost?”

For most, financial debt is seen as an unavoidable pain to be endured along the path toward a brighter future--learn now, pay later. We justify forking out the cash based on the hope that great opportunities await us after graduation.

Yet, even with a crisp new Bachelor’s degree in hand, it’s not uncommon to hear that it’s a mere stepping stone to a Master’s degree, which is today’s equivalent to a BA and just the preliminary step toward a PhD, which is what you're really going to need to be a stand-out in the job market.

Meanwhile, some of the greatest minds and innovators of our generation never followed a traditional educational path at all, which leads me to question the sensibility of the entire tradition.

In layman's terms, something's whack.

One of my early college professors exhorted my class to choose a major as soon as possible. Most of us were in her Music 101 course to obtain the required credits needed to complete general education. Figure out what you’re going to major in so that you don’t waste time and money on courses that don’t apply to you, she said.

At that time, most of us didn't know what we wanted to study because we weren't sure what we wanted to do with our lives. We just knew that going to college was the responsible thing to do to keep our options open. If I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life back then, I'd have resented being required to take classes that were of no interest, or relevance, to my future goals. However, since I wasn't sure what I wanted to do for a career at age 18, I enjoyed general education with a curiosity like that of a customer sampling products at COSTCO.

This intellectual nibbling would eventually lead to the selection of a main course of study that would then, hopefully, lead to a fulfilling career in a related field. But it didn’t. It hasn't worked that way for many of my classmates either. The end of undergrad life simply meant the beginning of internships, required work experience, or, simply, trying things out. Essentially, we’ve been trying things that were mostly accessible even without the degree.

Higher education offers a buffet of learning opportunities for its students, but getting fat on education doesn't necessarily lead to a competitive edge in the real working world. In fact, it seems that the real world is the best place to learn skills for being competitive and functional in the real world. Go figure.

I'm thrilled to see that bright people are stepping forward to suggest different ways of educating and, more importantly, preparing students to contribute and interact with the world outside the classroom.

I'd love to keep going to school because I love learning, but I can't rationalize an accumulation of more knowledge that may never convert into practical ways of being competent in a given field. From what I've experienced, learning mostly happens outside of class.

Taking out loans to get fat on knowledge can be a lot of fun, but then you’re just fat and broke. There’s got to be a better way than that.

By Dane Johnson

Dane Johnson earned two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Psychology and Theology; a process that only served to stir up his curiosity about everything else he didn’t have time to study during college. Since graduating, he’s worked as a gig drummer, plumber, landscaper, journalist, barista, county-employed social worker, group home counselor, and real estate investor. He nurtures a deep desire to expand his understanding of the world, and make friends along the way. Connect with him through Twitter and Instagram

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