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What are we doing

by on January 16, 2010

I have the privilege to write  this post from my perspective.  Usually, I try to address universal issues — issues that affect us all — and I’ll try to do that here.  But I am writing this post, unapologetically, from my own view, addressing issues that are my own.  I can only assume  they are problems you have, or will, experience(d).  This is, moreover, an opinion piece, lacking the research I may sometimes put into posts.  Quite unlike some posts by my good friend Mike Villegiante.

What are we doing?  I mean, we twenty-two, -three, -four, -five, years-olds?  Generally, because these are the people I know, I’m referring to people with a college degree, plus or minus a few units.  And I mean, where are we going in the  broader scheme of things?  Sometimes, often, but not always, I know where I’m going when I’m walking on the sidewalk.  I envisioned myself answering a telephone call that did not come, in which I was asked ‘what are you doing?’ and going into precisely that discussion – do you mean now, or in the  grand scheme of things?  It  turns out, what I want to discuss is mostly the grand scheme of where we are going.

First, to understand where we might be going, I have to address where we are.  As I say, I’m blogging from my perspective, which is a college student (almost done), who knows mostly college students and graduates.  As have always assumed, grades be damned, that college — education — is a means to an end.  We come to college for what we think of as professional ‘advancement’ (whether that’s beneficial or not I’ll judge a different time), expecting to leave college after several year with some opportunity in whatever field we chose to pursue.  For instance, I chose (at least so far), that I do not plan to be a doctor, and that my direction is somewhere in the humanitarian/social services sector.  So far, then, I know what I’m doing.  But it doesn’t work that way.  At least, that is my observation, and that is what I’m told, after all this time at school, by my parents.  Not, of course, a wholly surprising fact.  Look around, and it seems to be true — we choose an interest to study in-depth but do not pursue that course of study in life.  What, then, is the point of college, if it is not to guide us in 1)finding and interest to study, and 2)studying that subject?

Now, we have gotten through, or mostly gotten through, college.  What do we do?  We can work in a market (I compliment my friends who do), or another service-sector job.  But, surely, if there is a significant percentage (I believe higher than 40%, though I don’t want to look right now) of people who either dropped out of, or never studied beyond, high school … then we should leave some jobs for them?  Why, with a college education, especially a four-year college, should we want such a job?  And if we want such a job, and it does not not require a college degree, why obtain a degree?

What are we doing?  Most of us, it seems, after we finish college, want to go back home.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  After four years (or eight-plus years for Webb students and others) away from home it’s nice to go back.  It gives us time to think of what to do next.  But — and this fault belongs to all of us (institutions, students, EVERYONE) — shouldn’t college have given us some idea?  Well, yes.  As I said, at the moment I see a future (I don’t know where) in the public sector, working on social issues.  I have some idea.  And I’m scared of them.  This may be an issue of mine, or it may be a universal issue, but I’m scared of my own ideas.  I don’t know how to execute them.

So, what are we doing?  I haven’t the faintest idea.  If I leave where I am, I will end up in one of two places (or, in a weird sense, in both of them).  Washington — there’s nothing for me there.  Santa Barbara — I don’t know what there is for me there.  That is why I’m scared of my ideas.  If I go to Santa Barbara, I want to do things differently than my family.  With all respect to my many cousins and family members, I don’t want to major in English and run farmers’ markets; I don’t want to major in the arts and end up in Los Angeles teaching yoga and reading stories; I don’t want to major in political science and work in a restaurant and do odd accounting jobs; I don’t want to major in criminal justice, join the army, and pursue a completely separate line of work when I leave the army.  I chose my major, and despite the fact that each time I entered a new class I wondered why I would do so to myself, I LIKE my major.  I don’t like all that it entails, or how frustrating politics is, but that’s not the point.

I ask once more, not to belabor the point, what are we doing?  I always thought that college would give me some understanding of how to accomplish what I should do next, regardless of what that is.  But it hasn’t.  I am aware of what I’m good at and capable of, and for that I thank the school and my analytical mind.  I am no closer to knowing what I should do next.  I have received no great advice — I don’t know that I would know what to do with the advice if I got any.  I don’t mean that nobody has put ideas into my head, or that there aren’t ideas.  I do mean to suggest, though, that we should have some clue of 1)what we should be doing, and 2)how to do what we should do, and 3)what prioritization methods we should regard as most significant if there is more than one thing that lies open to us.

I close this thought not knowing whether or not I am any closer to understanding what we are doing.  More precisely, I observe that we (I say ‘we’ meaning college grads, etc, that I have been referring to) are doing menial tasks.  I guess, and I am not sure, that we are doing this because we don’t know what else to do.  I assume, of course, that a college graduate should be ‘in charge’ of things, although I do not mean to disparage people without some college education.  I am well aware that we are all meant for separate duties, whatever they are.  But, are we all that we are capable of?  And what are we doing?  We don’t have to know precisely — we can’t — but some idea would be nice.

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From → On the Dole

3 Comments
  1. Jill permalink

    Thank you for the profound analysis of the ineptitude of modern day college to guide you into a career. It must be an American absurdity that after 20 straight years of formal schooling there still is no advice as to how to earn a living doing what you’re good at.

  2. Angela Schoch permalink

    Huzzah *applause*

    Good way to put it, certainly better than I would have been able to phrase it.
    It’s an interesting thing, lately I’ve found myself discussing this with different people…of different generations and origins…and the ways in which the whole education process used to be conducted here and in different parts of the globe is so interesting.

    For instance, in Denmark forty years ago, you basically all had the same educational standards until fourteen, then until the age of about eighteen you would live as a farm hand, nurse maid or other type of hired hand, in a different region of the country, after which you entered an apprenticeship in your chosen field.

    It’s an odd thing, in my search for ANY kind of work, I’m finding that fewer and fewer people are willing to give any kind of training. Like I’m applying as a waitress and they bluntly say that they never hire people with less than three years experience serving…one establishment even asked if I have DISHWASHING experience. When I started working, about eight years ago at sixteen these jobs could be procured by people with no employment history!

    I’m not sure if it’s a product of businesses realizing a tougher job market means they can expect more from potential employees or what. I’m also finding that fewer people seem to take college degrees seriously, of course my field is far more, how do you say it, blue collar? I’m curious if you will also find this to be true once you really get out there and start handing out your resume…

    • I’m glad our conversation has been thought-provoking. It’s been several years since I discussed some of these matters with my friends (I’m thinking of my Belgian and Norwegian friends — the internet rocks!), but things seem to be becoming exponentially harder. This conversation also arises, I’m glad to say, in my political science classes.
      My 89 year-old grandma told me that when she was in college (not in that, “back in the day” kind of comment, but just a description of what things were like, without commenting too much on the change, because she doesn’t know what all of the changes are), our system was exactly as you describe Denmark. (And my understanding is that Norway and Belgium are somewhat similar to the field-specific training you say Denmark has). We used to have labor schools in the US. I think we still do, but I’ve never paid any attention to them, and they’re not really what they should be I think.
      I won’t guess on what the future holds, in terms of how people will respond to my resume. I feel like my resume is somewhat limited despite four years of volunteer work, sometimes for more than one organization at a time, a few odd jobs, and other things. I do know I’m either underqualified (for even simple jobs like inputting data, apparently) or overqualified.

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