10 Mar

What’s a College Education For?

There’s a debate swirling around twitter about whether a writer should get an English degree.

I’m biased, I have an English degree.

But I found the conversation slightly offtrack because it contains within it a base assumption layer that I run up against. That’s the idea that a college degree’s purpose is solely to make you a better worker.

It’s an assumption that laces through the American social landscape. Work makes you a better human being. Moral and better human beings should therefore be richer. If you are poor, that means you probably aren’t a good human being, because the rhetoric in the USA is that if you work hard and are good you’ll make money.

Check out this ad by Fiverr:


Are you a doer? Are your bones sticking out of your typing fingers yet? Boing Boing has some thoughts.

Come on, work harder. Eat less. Not making enough is a personality failure.

You can see this pop up in Prosperity Theology as well, where it’s believed that if you truly believe in God you’ll get rewarded. Again, conflating moral goodness with success.

So again and again, I see lists of how much people earn based on their degree. Then you have gluts, where people follow careers into something like legal professions merely because it’s ‘a great degree for earning’ and then suddenly they’re unable to work because there are too many fucking lawyers.

As an undergrad, if you’re not in a specific trade school with a program that has job placement (I guess you could argue law schools are set up that way) education was classically set up to create more well-rounded individuals.

Look, I got an English degree because it allowed me to do some things that set the stage for me becoming a writer.

1) It gave me time to write fiction as a lot of it was structured around year-end tests and papers, so I filled time in between those moments with writing a shit tone of short stories.

2) It let me write some short stories for grades, letting me combine the two.

3) Critical theory allowed me to anticipate how different readers would read different texts. I’m not shocked like some writers when someone has a variant classical feminist critique of a novel I like or even wrote.

But, I wish I could have taken more history classes and business classes on managing micro-finance, things I had to self-educate on. I would have enjoyed a marketing class (well, not enjoyed it, but it would have been valuable to take and understand) and I wish I would have taken a graphic design course, but I couldn’t have known the impact of self-publishing on the field and eBooks in 1996.

I took courses to become more educated and well rounded, to open up my world.

The path to becoming a writer is convoluted and I have yet to hear a writer give the same path as an answer to ‘what is the way to become a writer?’

Now, in the US, college is vastly inflated as an expense and the debt students take on is crippling, but I’m thinking globally about he purpose of education.

I saw this STEM and jobs focus developing when I first moved to the States. It tends to get very strident when there are conservative administrations, as the neoliberal, libertarian judgement on education for mere self improvement is judged as immoral. Your worth is only the worth you can provide as a worker, and all things must flow into that, in many avenues of a corporate-oriented, corporate advertised world.

Go get the degree that’ll engage you. No matter what job you get, outside of CEO or financier, will leave you fucked for debt.

You might as well have fun with those four years if you’re in the US. Because you’ll spend the rest of your life paying it.

Life is short. Get the degree you want.

The path to what career you’re in, or writing in general, will be wonky enough getting it doesn’t guarantee anything, and getting something else doesn’t hurt.