07 October 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: E is for Education


I’m blessed to have gotten a lot of, and reasonably good quality, education. I went to public school for first & second grade, then was caught up in the forced desegregation and busing of the early 1970s in third grade. In September, my dad decided to move us to West Palm Beach, Florida, where I attended the first half of third grade. Our stint as Floridians didn’t last, and by January we were back in Memphis and I was enrolled at Thrifthaven Baptist Academy. I absolutely hated it. The strict, legalistic Independent Baptist philosophy was harder to recognize as a kids, but I knew I didn’t like the myriad rules, and the work was harder. My handwriting sucks to this day because those kids had been writing in cursive for a year and I’d never even seen it, so I had to learn hard and fast and didn’t learn to do it correctly. Later in life, I would recognize the value of the solid foundational education I received there, and they did give me a basic conception of the existence and nature of God, albeit a rigid, retributional one.

In 1979, I again made a mid-year move to Immokalee (a Seminole word meaning “my home”), Florida (Dad always had a bit of wanderlust and a love/hate relationship with the State of Florida), attending Immokalee Middle School for the second half of eighth grade, and Immokalee High School for the first half of ninth grade. Yep, you guessed it: another mid-year move back to Memphis. Returning to private school (such as it was), I attended First Christian Assembly Academy for the remainder of ninth grade. In the summer of 1980, one of the hottest on record in Memphis, we moved to Raleigh and I attended RaleighEgypt High School until I graduated in May, 1983.

I never liked school up to that point, but I didn’t really hate it until third grade. Once I graduated, I had no plans to go to college, content at that time to work for Kroger (supermarket, same parent company as Fred Meyer) for a while, but in the summer of 1984 I decided I wasn’t going very far without college, so I began what would eventually become a 24 year college career at then-MemphisState University with an 8:00 English class. I had in mind to be a computer systems analyst, just because it sounded cool and had money-making potential, but got interested in politics and changed my major to political science. That lasted all of a semester when college started to look expensive (seems funny saying that when at the time I was paying about $200 a class) and a four-year degree looked a long way away, so I transferred to the-State Tech (now Southwest Tennessee Community College). I augmented my major to fit their programs, graduating with an Associate’s Degree in December, 1987.

By then, I was working at a bank and making more money than I could have made starting over as a bookkeeper, and hard work led to a series of unfocused but progressively more lucrative (relatively speaking) advancements. I took a couple of classes at UofM, but not seriously pursuing a degree with any sort of timeline in mind. Over the next few years, I dropped college altogether, just working and spending money. In the mid-90s, I took a few online courses at Trinity College of the Bible and spent a couple of semesters (two classes) commuting to Blue Mountain College in northwest Mississippi one night a week. By the late 90s, I realized that if I would just stick with it, I could graduate UofM with a bachelor’s degree eventually, and in May 2008, I finally did just that, a mere 24 years after that first 8AM English class.

Over the years, I went to school with a lot of different people, I dare say more than your typical college student because my unfocused goals led to taking a lot more classes than might have strictly speaking been necessary. I saw a lot of stupid people buying degrees without (I was convinced) sense enough to succeed in life or business. I’m sure some of them said the same about me, but I’ve managed to cobble together a pretty fair career out of bits and pieces of education, hard work, and a little luck. I still regret that I didn’t take a straighter path and get a degree when I was younger with fewer family responsibilities. I carry a hefty student loan debt I wouldn’t have incurred if I had finished up when it was so much cheaper. I missed a lot of opportunities over the years because my resume lacked a college degree. Still, I’m happy where I am and with the wife and children I have now, and I don’t think I’d jeopardize that for any amount of “what-ifs.” Along the way, I took classes I hated (statistics, any sort of math), classes I loved (physics, astronomy, and history), and a lot of classes I considered virtually worthless (philosophy, sociology, and a “health and wellness” class, the instructor of which was convinced I was dead due to my poor diet/exercise habits). There’s no utility to getting a master’s degree at this point in my career, but if I could do it just for fun, I’d love to take some history courses. One of my favorite courses in all my years of school was a history class. For the whole semester, I never saw the professor (a stereotypical long-haired, spor-tcoated type) bring so much as a piece of paper to class. If we studied the book, I can’t recall it (though I’m sure I shelled out over $100 for it). He just came in and told us stories for an hour and a half. He just <i>knew</i> that stuff! It was fun! It was interesting! Although about all I recall (this was 20 years ago, mind you) was that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand precipitated World War I. That class was also to occasion of my most memorable bit of schoolwork; a paper exploring the interelational asepcts of the alliances of World War II among Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, written as a running commentary of a professional wrestling match between Churchill & Roosevelt and Hitler & Stalin (highlights include Douglas MacArthur, completely uninvolved in the match, leaving ringside vowing to return; Lady Nancy Astor heckling Churchill from the front row; Hitler turning on Stalin but being “snowed in” by crumbling ceiling tiles in the even-at-that-time decrepit Mid-South Coliseum. I don’t recall my grade, but I got an “A” in the class, so it must not have been too abysmal.

How important do you think a college education is? Is it worth the exorbitant and ever-increasing cost? This graphic from Time Magazine doesn’t indicate that it is.

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