Warning: This got long. Sorry. Don't read if you aren't interested
First, let me share an interesting blog entry by my dad that is along these lines. It's called "What To Learn in College
." As for the question at hand, count me in among those who say, "it depends." Our background:Me:
- My mother graduated from high school but does not have a college degree (though over the years she has taken courses at different times). She is *brilliant,* extremely well-read, and very thoroughly self-educated. She keeps up with the best of 'em when it comes to intellectual pursuits. She had my sister at 19, but I am unclear if that had anything to do with the fact that she does not have a college degree.
- Before my birth my mom did a variety of jobs, including working at a bakery and teaching in a Montessori school. By the time I arrived (my parent's third child), my mom was a stay-at-home mom. When my younger brother and I were around elementary school age, my mom began working outside the home again. She worked various retail, office, and other jobs, some for money and some as trade for the dance classes we took. She also always did additional work at home as a seamstress.
She did talk about going to college for a while, and at one time I remember she seemed particularly interested in studying children's literature and becoming a school librarian, but she never pursued that more than part-time and eventually we all sucked up the college money. One thing my mother has always been is an artist. As we got older, my mom's "free time" became enough to give her more time to devote to her art.
Over time, she slowly, slowly phased out her other work (but the other work she did do was always retail in art-supply type stores as well as classes she taught in these stores), and focused more and more on her art. She is now "more or less" a full-time artist and author (www.sarahfishburn.com). She has succesfully co-owned an art supply shop, though she sold her interests in the business not too long ago. She does continue to teach art classes in addition to creating.
- My father did not graduate from high school, but he did graduate from college (in fact, he did this while my oldest sister was just a wee one). When we were kids, he worked and went to school and parented us all at the same time and got at least one if not more master level degrees. I don't remember exactly how it goes, but my dad tells a great story about how the college at one point *forced* him to graduate because he had all the requirements to graduate...he hadn't declared a major in all that time and didn't want to, so they looked at the courses he'd taken and decided his degree would be in mathematics. Originally he had studied music, but his parents believed that would lead him nowhere and pressured him endlessly into more "lucrative" studies.
I think my father is a genius...he is incredibly bright. I know his education has impacted his thinking, but I'm not sure to what extent it has impacted his vocation. It is very clear to me that his thinking is shaped in part by being very well-read and non-college-educated on a range of topics in addition to his college-education (for example, having taken various workshops and classes on a variety of topics over the years).
- My dad became a software engineer in the early days of the consumer electronics/computer industry. I suspect in those days it was his mathematical genius that contributed to his success. He worked as a software engineer for the largest portion of my childhood, later went into management. He was a successful manager, but also found it very stressful. I don't know if this is the reason, but I understand that sometime in recent years, he went to work in intellectual trade, for lack of a better way to put it.
I'm really not clear on what he does, but as I understand it, he basically consults with people and organizations on complex problems that require complex logical analysis. The problems are varied. They range from "when research data doesn't add up" to systems analysis in business organizations to civic dilemmas in government.
- Growing up, I didn't receive a singular message about education. My mother homeschooled two of my siblings for part of their school years, and she was honest with us that she valued education but that she felt there were many large flaws in the education system in our country and that she couldn't wholeheartedly support "schools" per se. She had a great relationship with teachers and administrators in our schools who actually seemed to be providing a thoughtful education. She made a beef with those who didn't, and I know that because she was a young, poor mom, that she raised eyebrows among those who were unimpressed with her smart and strategic attacks on those aspects of school that undermined our education. On rare occassion, homework would be sent home that she considered to have little educational value, and she would do that type of homework for us if requested and give us something more educational to do in its place (example: crossword puzzles for anything other than perhaps spelling).
That said, she was an avid volunteer in our schools-- she tutored advanced math students for several years, for example, and organized book orders through Scholastic as another example-- and as a voter, she always, always voted in favor of more money for schools.
My dad was more silent on his position regarding schools, but it was clear he valued education in whatever form. He read outloud to us starting from infancy, rarely children's books, and this continued at least through elementary school. Intellectual curiosity and engagement with the world were highly valued. Debates at the dinner table were encouraged to sharpen our critical thinking skills. When I came to my dad at seven years old with a drawn-out complaint about lack of sidewalk maintenance outside the duplex we were renting (something that was impacting my ability to skateboard outside our home), he sent me straight to the city council figuring either they or I (or both) would get a decent education from me advocating for my issue.
If anyone didn't know the definition of a word, he got out this massive two volume dictionary he had and read the definition aloud to everyone, clearly learning something himself from the experience even if he knew the word's definition. Not knowing something was never considered a deficit in my family, but a lack of interest in learning was certainly seen as tragic.
- When it came to college, I don't recall pressure either way. I had dreamed of Harvard in my late elementary school years, and had always expressed some degree of interest in college, so perhaps my family just figured I'd go. Both of my older sisters went straight to college after high school in the traditional fashion. I moved out of my parents home at 16, refused to take my SATs due to horrible test anxiety, graduated from high school a semester early with a GPA that would have been a 4.0/4.0 had it not been for an unkind gym teacher, and then took a year and a half "off" (if you call working three jobs "off") without any commitments regarding college or not.
Then I got restless and developed an interest I wanted to pursue through a degree. Because I didn't have an SAT score, I didn't even bother to apply for the university from which I intended to graduate. Instead, I entered into a state university as a non-matriculating student, and also took some courses at a community college to save money. When I had enough credits to prove my abilities as a student, I applied at my chosen university, and got in.
- I graduated college with a 4.0/4.0. My overall impression of my university experience was that it was at times a fun intellectual exercise, but that the quality of the education was not up to my standards and I felt largely under-challenged. I did, however, take responsibility during my time as a college student to make it as challenging for myself as I could, even when the professors did not challenge us with their class materials...and I got very annoyed with the many "traditional" students who, as far as I could tell, expected to be "fed" and just rolled their eyes at professors who weren't up to par. Perhaps because I was working and using scholarships for much/most of my funding, I found this especially irritating. I was glad to finally be done.
- I also have recently been diagnosed with a disorder that impacts memory, and remember nothing that I learned from college except those things that I learned well enough to integrate and incorporate into my overall world view and/or regular practices. I could not likely go back into the field I studied because I don't recall enough. Heck, I have trouble recalling things I learned a couple weeks ago at a conference.
- After graduating from college, I moved to a state where I intended to go to medical school (to establish residency) and spent a good portion of a year trying to find jobs in my field to no avail. During the second portion of that year I widened my search for jobs to include those only very indirectly related to my field, and silmultaneously I began to receive a call into ministry that scared the dickens out of me (since it was not at all what I had planned).
In a convergence of factors that made everything play out just so, I ended up in a position of ministry and studying to do that work at the same time, but not through "traditional" means of advanced education (seminary). I am not sure if I will return to my interest in medicine at some point in my life, but I believe what I am doing now-- and have been doing for most of my adult life-- is what I am supposed to be doing at this time.
- My dw's parents are the age of my grandparents (she is the youngest of seven with a large age gap between her and the siblings ahead of her). I'm not sure how far along her parents got in their public education. Neither graduated from college.
- dw's mother lived with her parents until she married, at which time she promptly became a "homemaker" as they call it. I don't believe she has ever had a job outside the home, though she may have done odd jobs and such over the years.
- dw's father eventually came to work for a printing company. Research shows that this is no longer the climate for today's workers, but at the time loyalty to one's company was seen as the ideal and was a huge factor in career success. Many people "made their way up the ladder to success," as my dw's dad did. After years of heavy physical labor, he eventually became a supervisor. He worked for the same company for over 50 years, and left only when he was forced to retire because of an on-the-job injury.
- Neither of dw's parents are readers. They don't have much in their home as far as books are concerned, though they have a Bible. They are self-educated in a narrow range of topics, and life educated in a few more. They think highly of educated people, but didn't impart education as a value in any concrete way while my dw was a kid. In fact, dw missed a lot of foundational concepts over the years because she had anxiety issues and dw's mother resolved it by letting her stay home from school. She missed many a school day to go to the mall with her mother.
- When it came to college, there was some pressure to go. dw was not ready. She decided to study graphic design as the sister closest to her in age did, but she had no vocational interests in particular (still is pretty unfocused in that arena). For a number of reasons, including emotional trauma related to "coming out," she did very poorly and wasted a lot of her parents hard-earned money trying to make it work at school when she wasn't ready to put in the effort it would take to get something out of the experience. Eventually, she dropped out.
- dw and I met when dw was in her very early twenties. As I was attending college at the time, dw joined me in taking some classes at the community college. She did very well, and got a lot out of it, but still didn't feel like she knew what she wanted to do with her life. She also did not enjoy school in the least, and found it continued to provoke anxiety in her, and decided not to pursue any particular degree for fear of commiting to school.
- We eventually decided together that dw should be a stay-at-home mom, but she decided first that she would teach preschool for a while. For that, she did a lot of course work/training over time, but decided not to get a degree in early childhood, for the reasons stated above regarding her anxiety about commiting to school. She worked as a professional preshool teacher for a number of years, and was several times asked to take a supervisory position but refused in most cases due to her great dislike of having to tell people what to do.
Just last year she finally transitioned to being a stay-at-home mom, mainly because our situation was such that she *couldn't* work. She does need to begin working part-time again for financial reasons, and she feels she needs this to be "adult time" but also not heavy-thinking time. She's been looking into bartending classes and thinks that might be a fun job. She also remembers fondly her days of working in a parking garage while we were attending school together, and would love something like that. She doesn't feel she needs a "career" to be fulfilled. That's just not her.
When we learned early on in his infancy that our son had some chance of developmental delays that might even prevent his ever living independently, we had a reality check about our expectations of who our children would be. I've since developed a deep belief that I am not the one who gets to determine what is a "quality life" for my children.
I try my best to encourage my children's intellectual development the way my family did mine. I communicate that I value education, in many forms not limited to but not excluding schooling. We currently Montessori homeschool in combination with a one day weekly Montessori program for otherwise homeschooled children. FondestBianca, above, describes my general attitudes about college pretty well:
If my kids express interest in a particular area that college would benifit then yes, I'd encourage it. If my child showed true passion for something better persued outside of school then I would encourage that. Basically I plan to encourage whatever it is that I think is a good balance between what I think will be most benifical and productive on a personal level for them and what THEY think will be most benifical or personally fulfilling them.
At this point, I just want my kids to be happy, whatever their abilities turn out to be, and whatever life paths they choose to take.
I suspect that whatever they do at 20 will be different than what they do at 30, and that life will be a journey for them as much as it is for me.
I spent the last couple of years watching my SIL struggle with my nephew over this stuff. He is the oldest of her children, and she did expect him to go to college. I believe he may be mildly developmentally delayed, and given what I have seen in terms of his academic work, I'm a little surprised he got in somewhere. He had a very hard time in his first year, really struggled through it like my dw did in her first year, and quit at the end of the year. He's now taking a much lighter load at a community college and working toward a career in personal fitness training. His internships more than anything have been invaluable for him. One question I have is, is everybody cut out for college? Another question is whether college should be as heavily weighted as it is? Currently a four-year degree doesn't do as much as it did ten or twenty years ago. Are there other ways to support vocational paths?