Complete Failure Of The Imagination, College Edition

People are to varying degrees limited by their horizons.  This is why you have had otherwise ordinary people from countries like Ireland and the Philippines who at one time or another flooded throughout the world filling out the working classes of any number of nations.  These were people who saw ordinary people like them travelling the globe, searching far and wide for opportunities.  They weren’t brave explorers by any stretch of the imagination.  They just had a vision of what an ordinary person could do which happened to include ‘diaspora’ in it.

People are limited by their horizons.  There are few people in the modern world who have the potential to have their horizons limited more than suburban children.  The net effect of moving one’s family to the suburbs is to raise one’s children in an environment devoid of anything not deemed essential to the living of a good life.  That means that you leave the burb, make your money elsewhere, bring it back and spend it on the good life.

The unfortunate side-effect of eliminating from one’s environment everything not deemed essential to the living of a good life (including work) is that the children who grow up in this environment end up exposed to the trophy without ever seeing the race.  In the suburbs, the money required to maintain the lifestyle comes from an unseen outside world.  The only exposure that the typical child has with gainful employment is in their interactions with those who sell goods and services and, most frequently, their teachers.

In my home town, where my parents continue to live, the school system is one of the biggest employers around.  When we were young, my classmates and I were told by our teachers that we were set to come of age at a time when most public school teachers would be graying out of the industry, a time ripe with opportunities for enterprising young go-getters like ourselves.  A large percentage of the smartest people I went to school with then are teachers now.  I would without hesitation send my daughter to be educated by all of them, knowing that they are good at their jobs and pure in their intentions.

In fact, when I entered college my initial intention was to become a linguistics professor.  This was, so to speak, my default setting.  After all, since I was a child I was taught that my ‘job’ was to get good grades.  That was what I was good at.  That was the industry that I came up in, so to speak, the education industry, and it only made sense for me to take it to the highest level that I was capable of achieving.

More importantly, I didn’t see any options other than becoming a professor.  I had never really considered it.  Money having never been an issue of primary concern to me (remember my parents were bringing it in from somewhere beyond my horizon) and at that point I have to say I honestly didn’t know the value of the stuff.  I got my linguistics degree, but at some point along the way I realized that, while I enjoy teaching people, I didn’t want to be primarily a teacher.  Ironically, I spent the next several years teaching, but I viewed what I was doing more as assembling a general toolkit of abilities.  I may have been teaching, but what I conceived of myself as doing was basically learning to deal with people.  I still have a long way to go, but I would say that it was time well spent.

The reason I bring this up is because of a conversation that I had with someone yesterday.  I asked her what she was planning to do [with her life] and she told me ‘get a PhD’.  I know what she meant: to get a PhD and then do something academic with it, like teaching or writing, but at that moment it struck me as odd: the PhD was originally conceived of as a credential indicating a certain degree of academic attainment, meant to distinguish those with a certain body of knowledge and expertise from those without.  For the degree to be the goal and the subsequent work to be a post-script is nothing short of a perversion.  It all goes back to my post on vicarious leisure.  The purpose of the degree boiled down to one thing: to prove that the degree could be attained.

Then I thought there might be something else to it.  I remembered that I had started out on the road to advanced graduate studies too, but I had learned that it wasn’t for me relatively early in the game.  A few early wins and I might have managed to hold on to the dream longer, perhaps long enough to get into a graduate linguistics program.  If I had continued to nurse the poorly-laid plan to become a linguistics professor up to that stage, I believe it would have been much more likely that I would have fallen victim to sunk costs bias: I’ve come this far, it would be a shame to quit now!

And then I would have ended up becoming a linguistics professor, and trying to justify that decision to myself forever after.

I’m not saying that all the people who pursue post-graduate studies are putting off the inevitable reckoning with a series of decisions that they put off making when they were self-satisfied high achieving high school students.  What I’m saying is that education, because of its chronological head start, is the one industry most likely to permanently trap those who don’t really belong in it.

The second most likely is entertainment.  The third most likely is sports.


~ by Joshing on April 21, 2010.

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