The following is a guest post by Cheryl Simpson, a mother of 4, computer nerd, and math teacher.
College is a tool. Like a screwdriver or a hammer or a computer. It is really useful if it is used correctly. If used incorrectly or in an inappropriate manner, it is not useful and can be harmful. I would not say that a computer is not useful. Of course it is! I’m using it right now. However, if I wanted to build a deck, the computer cannot hammer in nails or screw in screws. And, oh boy, a hammer and a screwdriver work so much better than a computer to build a deck.
Therefore, I wonder why people seem to believe that every one needs to go to college. Why is it a common understanding that going to college will make you successful and happy in your life? And, more importantly, why is it understood that if you do NOT go to college, you will be unsuccessful and unhappy in your life?
When I was growing up in the 1980′s, it was understood that I would go to college. Never mind that no one ever told me what I would do when I got there. College was the destination, not a stepping stone or a point along a journey. It was understood that once I was accepted to college, and I walked onto that campus, my life would be exponentially better than the moment before. I never questioned this teaching. I did as I was told, regurgitating lessons from my teachers, doing well in my classes, applying for college, getting accepted and finally, that moment arrived. Finally, all my hard work was going to pay off. I moved into my on-campus housing, enrolled in my first classes and was on my own for the first time in my life. I sat back, to bask in the accomplishment, thoroughly proud of myself.
Of course, it was all a lie. I never imagined that college was the tool, not the destination. After years of taking useless, boring classes, I finally decided on a major of Computer Science by the beginning of my 3rd year. I was also working part time in offices, where I was able to move from a secretary to an analyst, creating databases and spreadsheets. I found that while my school work was controlled and perfectly organized, my real work was messy and fluid and there was no one to give me the ‘right’ answer. I began to realize that college was not training me for the real world. The skills I was supposed to be learning in school were useless in my real job. However, I believed I needed that silly piece of paper to be taken seriously.
The great irony is that once I graduated, I began independent contracting and consulting. When a client would hire me, no one ever asked to see proof of my degree. My free time is spent learning new techniques and finding new ways to help people with my skills, because I want to. With the internet, I do not need to sit in a classroom, and take classes that do not interest me. I can choose each day to learn something new.
Now, years later, I have 4 children of my own. They all have their own special talents and skills. At this moment, I have one who loves history, one who loves to write and one who loves math (I’m not sure yet about the youngest). My history lover also loves music. My writer also loves philosophy. And my mathematician also loves archeology and mythology. When we talk about education, I explain to each of them that education starts now. There is no need to wait until they get to college to learn new things.
While we homeschooled the kids when they were younger, they are currently attending an extremely small rural school, where I also teach. We spend our spare time discussing politics, history, philosophy, religion, economics and current events. Some people think our children are too young to understand these concepts. They are wrong. The teachers at our school have learned that my children do not regurgitate lessons. They will question the teacher until they understand why. And if the teacher cannot provide enough information to satisfy those questions, they will go online and find the answer another way.
We have also discussed the concept of college, and reasons why they may attend and reasons why they may not attend college. My oldest asked me if he could get an electrician or plumbing certification first, so he could have a paying skill before he went off to college. My second asked if he could publish his book while still in high school, and only go to college if he couldn’t find the information he wanted to know on Khan Academy or TedTalks or through simply searching online. My #3 asked me why people bother to pay (or go obnoxiously into debt) to go to college, when all the information is already available online.
When my children ask questions such as these, I just smile and asked what they think. Just like in life, there is rarely someone to give you the ‘right’ answer. Only through thinking and asking questions can we hope to learn. If my children decide that they do not want or need college, that is just fine with me. And if my children decide they want to attend college, they will not show up the first day and believe they have arrived.
So, therefore, as my oldest is only a few years away from being allowed to be an adult, he is dealing with the standard question of our age… “Where are you going to college?”. It is assumed that since his father and I are well educated, we would require our children to attend college. And I can’t help but sit back and smile inside as he answers, “I’m not sure if I’m going to go to college. It’s too expensive, I can learn all I need to know online, I’d rather have a usable skill first and there is no way I’m borrowing money for it.”
I couldn’t be more proud.