Friday, October 02, 2009

Reflections on Further Education

You know what I love about writing? Every project is a new opportunity to learn.

Not just to learn how to write better, and improve my own skill level, but also, to research something new. Writing is a career path which allows one the luxury of never having to settle down into one particular field. Sure, in college I took English classes. Creative writing classes out the wazoo. But it wasn't the only thing I did. I didn't go to college with the goal of getting a BA in English. I hadn't intended on a liberal arts degree at all. I went to college for Wildlife Biology. My ultimate goal was to be a zookeeper, and write on the side, and while I was going to minor in English and suck up all the creative writing classes I could, it wasn't my academic priority.

Of course, Wildlife Biology wasn't really my calling, and I realized that the number and intensity of science classes it required was going to make me hate myself and my life and my education, so instead of hating what I loved, I went in a different direction. But the direction still wasn't English.

I went from Biology to Classics. An odd leap, maybe, but I was taking Latin for Biology--in preparation for Mammalogy where I would be required to learn scientific names. I figured having some Latin under my belt before I got into it would be a good thing. And then I fell in love with it. Not Latin, exactly, but Classics. Ancient history. Rome and Greece and the myths! Oh, the Myths! And seeing the way Latin had influenced English, the way the languages fit together, finding these roots and meanings that I had never realized were there-- that was amazing too.

By this time, I had so many English courses under my belt, just stuff that had seemed interesting to me, that it seemed silly not to cash in and take what I needed to get a second major. But it was just an afterthought. What I was really studying was history, and I loved it. (By that point, I had also already taken enough science classes that it seemed ridiculous not to at least get my minor, too. But I still to this day curse the chemistry courses I took for my major in biology, but never needed for the minor. Organic Chemistry, thou art evil incarnate at 8am four mornings a week!)

So I finished my college degree with a double major in Classical Studies and English and a minor in Biology. And I would love to go back to school and take even more classes in things that interested me. Just for the love of learning. I would love to take more classes in Norse Mythology and Old Norse history. I would love to take more classes on animal behavior and maybe some on human behavior. I would love to further my education. But I can't justify the cost.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to college and study what I loved. Whether it meant that I would find a job in my "field" or not. But what I loved was so broad, so cross-departmental, I don't think I would have been happy settling into a course of study that prevented me from taking classes outside of it. That's what I faced in Biology. In order to finish all the classes I needed for that degree, I would have had full loads solely of biology and science classes every semester. I would have had science coming out of my ears. I couldn't give up all my other interests just for one.

So what can you do when you love everything? When you love learning? Write fiction! Historical fiction on a certain period if you want to learn more about it. Science fiction with a certain focus (biological, physics, chemistry, et cetera) if you want to brush up on your scientific principles and theories! Write about a character who writes music if you want to learn more about it! Make your protagonist a mathematician if you want to teach yourself calculus! Because writing fiction makes you do research. Writing fiction, exploring your characters, makes you LEARN. You can't write it if you don't KNOW it.

I've considered going on to graduate school. For an MA in Classics (or Scandinavian Studies). But ultimately the thing that stops me is the cost. The investment. What would I be investing in? I don't want to teach, not really. I don't want to actually use the degree for something like archaeology or working in a museum, or anything associated with the field. Basically, I'd just be getting an MA to show everyone else I had mastered the knowledge, because I can do all the reading, all the research, all the studying on my own without a class directing it. I already do!

But I kind of have to wonder-- When did college, and graduate school, stop being about a love of learning? What does this say about our culture that wanting to learn and study something isn't reason ENOUGH to continue on in furthering one's education? What does it mean that the only justifiable reason--and this is an argument I've been subjected to time and again when I considered grad school--for spending money on a graduate degree is for the purposes of a career in that field? And why is higher education so prohibitively expensive? Is it to support this social and cultural attitude, that education should be for the purpose of finding a better paying job? (if for no other reason than to pay off the accumulated debt!)

I guess until I figure it out, I'll just stick with writing.


  1. I think that a lot of the expense from higher education comes from the fact that so many people get a college degree nowadays. It's not just people that really like learning. I know a lot of people that are only doing it because they have to get a degree to get a job-and the the job often has nothing to do with the degree. I feel that the current state of our education system is partly the fault of businesses that require degrees for positions but do not care whether or not the degree is at all related to the career.

  2. it makes me incredibly sad when people are going to college just to get a degree because they have to have one to get a job, and aren't there because they want to learn, or even learning anything they love, because what they love won't pay.


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