Tales From the Hilltop
An intelligent, yet Devil's Advocate view of the world

Episode Twenty-Seven: The Cost of Being ‘Smart’

“Scared to face the world: complacent, career student/some people graduate, but be still stupid.” – Kanye West, ‘Good Morning’.

Well, this reflection is about what many people consider to be the stepping stone from youth to adult life: the pursuit of higher learning. In American society, it pretty much represents the final stage of childhood towards finding their version of the American Dream. It’s what kids endure 12 years of grade schooling for, what parents send kids away to summer programs, save for years on end, and get them into special charter schools for, etc. College is supposed to be the matriculation and ultimate place for young minds to decipher what their purpose will be in this life and how they can go and make their place in the world, as what is told in grad speech after grad speech in schools all across the world.

My thing is: if this is true, then where is all the happiness us graduates were promised after walking the stage?

Now, if you’ve been reading along in this blog, you saw that I myself obtained a Bachelor’s degree for the better part of five years now. What I’ve found out is that my degree – though one of my crowning achievements in my life so far – hasn’t granted or promised me anything other than a pseudo-“smart” tag by my peers. This is not to bash the pursuit of higher learning in any way; I think it’s wonderful that people continue their education to learn more and get Master’s degrees, doctorates, and so forth. However, what people are finding out is that schooling, especially this is recession-filled economy, doesn’t seem to be worth all the stress, registration hassles, tests, 14-inch-thick books, 50-page papers, and 27-page syllabi.

The debate on ‘education vs. experience’ has always been a big one in trying to find the “usefulness” of college. After all, people often wonder that what good does it do to go to school for 4-5 years to get an entry-level position when folks who don’t have degrees but several years of work in that field are being given higher positions. It almost sounds degrading, in a way. However, from the corporate America standpoint, this is the ideal. The premise being that the college grad will work cheap in the beginning because they’ll need SOMETHING to pay off the $30-50K in student loans they just racked up, but will be more privy to the opportunities to climb up the ladder along the way, which can be a nice trade-off, if the grad wants to see the saga out. Only with this recession, a lot of people are coming out of work and have to add student loan payments to the list of bills they have to take care of.

Another knock on higher learning is that most folk seem to change who they are upon graduation. Well, depending on the definition of “change”, I really don’t consider this a knock. When a student enters a school, it’s the general idea that they’re not only going to get an education; they’ll also grow and mature as well. No one plans to say, “I’m going to school and I’ll be the same person when I get out.” That honestly, is the biggest waste of time, money, and effort one can do. Of course a person will be an altered person by the time they walk the stage, or even if they don’t. One cool thing about college is that people experience life with folk from other regions, other states, other countries and find out that they aren’t as “special” as mommy and daddy has been telling them growing up. So, in bonding with other folk (unless they’re a total introvert during school and are only seen at the library) they find other things to shape their world and evolve with that, especially in the cases of fraternities, sororities, and honor societies. Besides, most companies that will be hiring these grads tend to look for people that aren’t total bookworms; they want well-rounded people that have high GPAs and involvement with organizations or their communities.

The laughable thing about school is that nearly everyone who hasn’t gone seems to think that people will just breeze by and get a degree with running into problems. If you’ve been there, then you know as well as I that the same pitfalls that can deter lives in the “real” world also happen at college. Actually, it’s worse in school; behind the school walls, there’s no one there to let an individual know of the risky behavior like a parent or guardian, so it’s almost a mini-version of anarchy. Sure, those wild romp college movies are funny to watch, but they only make light on the eyes as to what can really happen once a child is sent off. Sex is probably the biggest concern, and it should be. Colleges across America have pregnancy rates that will amaze you, not to mention STDs. Drugs flow freely through schools as well. People get to school and fail out in a year or two at alarming trends, some folk don’t have the money to finish, some decide college isn’t for them, etc. This is why people put an importance on a degree; it – if nothing else – demonstrates an achievement that a student stuck to their education and finished, overcoming all the other obstacles that have cut so many of their peers down along the way.

Ultimately, here’s the thing: college will still be used to do many things. It will still define many folks, and separate them in the long run. The level of schooling certified will still dictate how far along a person can go into life, unless they become a major athlete, actor, musician, or hit the Powerball. What it hasn’t and will never do, is determines how “smart” someone is or how much better they are to other folk. Going to college doesn’t make anyone smarter than anyone else. More determined, more ambitious, yeah. I’ll give you those. In this lifetime, we all make choices to give us the best life we can have. While definitely improves it that outcome, it doesn’t define it. So, the cost of being smart really comes down to the cost of a future. I mean, if you honestly believe that being smarter = being better than everyone, well….maybe you’re stupider than all of us.



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