Sunday, March 26, 2006

Can't wait 'till April

Canadian television imports a lot of American shows. The Cosby Show and Family Ties were as much a part of my childhood as my American counterparts. We import our fair share of American sports, as well. I'm pretty sure the Superbowl outranks the Grey Cup every year.

But college sports is new to me. The only college sports you will ever see on TV in Canada are recaps on your local news, or possibly playoff games on cable. So the idea of getting so entirely wrapped up in the extracurricular activities of students you don't know is absolutely foreign to me. But Americans just seem to get excited about college sports.

And then it was March. If I wasn't baffled already with the American obsession with college sports, suddenly it's all there was on TV. And everybody but me seems to actually care.

The Superbowl is just one game. The World Series and Stanley Cup are seven, max. But March Madness is 7,943,565 games, all of which are apparently as important as the Superbowl.

I went to college, too. I remember March. It was about halfway through the Spring semester, and characterized by another word that started with "M", but ended with "idterms". I guess "Madness" could have applied, too, but I was too busy studying to think about it too much.

I'm just trying to figure one thing out: Aren't these guys supposed to be in college? Why do they have time for non-stop basketball? Don't they have midterms to write?

I know I'm not the first person to make this observation. I know all about the stereotypes, and I have heard how things have changed in recent years and basketball players have to actually take real classes and actually pass the exams. But it's really pretty unfair, isn't it? Being a basketball player is a full-time job, one that we pay NBA players millions of dollars to do. And these kids are doing it for scholarships, and they have to do schoolwork while they're at it. Why don't we stop kidding ourselves, call it NBA-Jr, and just let them play basketball?

Now I would be the last person to devalue education. I think it's important for us to learn, and to better ourselves. But college has stopped being about education. College used to be something that you could do to get a jump start on a career, something that would set you apart. But now a Bachelor's degree is considered a bare minimum to do pretty much anything. It's becoming more and more difficult to find a job without a college degree, and as a result, college has practically become an assumption rather than a choice. No one asks a high school graduate if they are going to college, we ask them where they are going to college. And if they tell us they are taking a year off, our jaws drop in disbelief.

And even a college degree isn't enough anymore. All of the jobs Jeremy looks at want college plus all kinds of certifications. All of the jobs I look at want a Master's or better. So we are entering the work force later and later, with more knowledge in our heads, but no workplace experience. Not to mention the fact that few of us can afford to go to college without loans, so we are entering the workforce later, while knee-deep in debt that will take most of us 20 years to recover from.

And then, heaven forbid, we find ourselves in our late twenties, with our biological clocks ticking away, and contemplating putting our careers on hold again to start a family.

I have so many friends with college degrees who are working at jobs that they could have done with a high school diploma. And the hourly rates they are being paid barely stretch to make their loan payments, let alone to save up for rainy days or retirement or a downpayment on a house. And it's not as if they are homefree once they find a job, either. Not only do employers require more of potential employees than ever before, but they also require more of their current employees than ever before. How often do you hear about companies downsizing and making one person do the work that was formerly done by three people? Far too often. So you are either left jobless again, or stressed to the breaking point with too many responsibilities.

It just seems to me that eventually, something has got to snap. You need a Master's to do what you used to need a Bachelor's for, and a Bachelor's for what you used to need a high school diploma for. I hate to make the slippery slope argument, but I'm already seeing job ads with "Master's preferred" listed where it seems to me like a high school grad with proper training could fit the bill. Where will it end?

I have a lot of education. I'm currently getting more education. And I'm still not entirely sure why. I could have bought a house with the money I have spent on my education. Then, at least, there would be something for the banks to repossess. I wish I could just give them my education back when they come calling, but I can't. It's no fun owing someone something you can't return.

I sometimes wish I hadn't bothered with all the schooling. I like my job at Starbucks, and I could have been doing it for the past ten years instead of filling my brain with more and more knowledge that I won't use. I could have saved up a downpayment and we could own a house, and my monthly payments would be going towards equity instead of down the drain that is my past. I could feel free to make the decision to have children without having to worry about health insurance and loan payments, instead of always having to suppress my maternal instincts because of finances.

If I ever have kids, which my biological clock is starting to think will be never, I will encourage them to look beyond the traditional expectations of high school --> college --> career. My generation is starting to realize that we've taken this whole education thing too far, we're educated, unemployable, and discontent. We long to run away and live on a farm (as long as it's a farm with internet access). I will encourage my kids to consider blue collar jobs, service professions, and housewifery as valid options. Doesn't every mother want her children to be happy? If I can point them in a direction that might allow them to feel fulfilled in a job they love before the age of 40, I think I would be remiss if I didn't.

I feel such an overwhelming responsibility for all of the education that I have. I made a promise to Sallie Mae that I would use the money that she gave me to become successful and pay it back with interest. And I broke that promise. A career has stopped being something that I dream about for personal satisfaction, and lofty ideas like making the world a better place have all but disappeared. A career has become a burden that I feel I must bear to make good on that promise.

I guess this is where I make some kind of uplifting observation about the value of education and how it has made me a better person and broadened my horizons. But I don't feel like saying that. Education has made me ten years older, broke and in debt, frustrated with my job options and feeling like the only way out is another three years of hair of the dog that bit me.

They're good at it, and they enjoy it. Just let the poor boys play basketball.


EarthenForge said...

This comment is in reference to March Madness (as oppossed to the rest of your thoughtful entry)...

I never realized it was such a big deal until, like, a few days ago, and I've lived in America all my life. I decided it's partly a regional thing. I grew up just over the river, but NJ people don't care as much about Villanova as PA people do. There are exceptions, to be sure, and I've heard the term before, but I never thought about it.

A few days ago I was walking back to my home from the market and a neighbor, attempting to be friendly was like, "hey, the big Villanova game's tomorrow night." I returned his enthusiam with a painfully blank look and the witty phrase, "Um. Yeah! Great!" Upon which I quickly hurried off, feeling unusually socially awkward.

Tonight Phil was reading the news online and he made an expression of disappointment. He said Villanova had lost. I asked him to explain to me what the deal was with March Madness, and with all his painstaking patience, he could not get through to me. Something about seeds and determining the best team even though the best team was supposedly determined in the regular season.

I'm 0 for 2 this weekend, since I only understood about 50% of the movie Syriana. Heh - there's another oddity of education. No matter how much you get there's always something out there that can make you feel stupid.

Sarah said...

You really put your finger on something that my friends and I have been struggling a lot with lately. We're all crossing our fingers, wondering if our college degrees will ever matter and doubting if we'll ever fully use them, nervously thinking about our student loan payments, and feeling terribly overwhelmed by how little we were actually prepared for REAL life: menu planning, budgeting, basic car maintenance, child care, taxes, oh the list goes on.

Anonymous said...

yes, ladies and gentlemen, "I am overeducated and underemployed," something that i think that i knew would happen as soon as I got a degree in history. And I grew up on a dairy farm without internet access, and more and more, I'm feeling nostalgic towards a way of live that I hated when I actually lived it... ~Marlene

Christy're said...

I think education is getting less and less relevant to the job force, and that is part of why employers require experience. A student can have too much "critical thinking skill" and too little practical knowledge. The standard for base degrees is getting higher because students coming out of degrees know less and less pertinent information. I learned SO much and go SO many pats on the back in undergrad and I haven't used a lick of it. I'm a bit ticked about that.