I’m rather innocent in the ways of the world, even though I’ve lived almost 50 years in it. I married my high school sweetheart before I’d even graduated from college and left my parents’ care completely. My husband was a fabulous provider and only urged me to seek full time employment after my 4 kids had reached their teenaged years. So really, I’ve never supported myself entirely. Well, come to think of it, probably nobody “supports himself entirely”. Let’s just say that I still have much to learn.
So today, I’m starting a class in Memoir Writing through the UW – Milwaukee extension program. I am so excited to be going back to school! I have a BA already, so I’m not embarking on a long term degree program, but I am trying to get closer to a goal I’ve had for about 20 years. I’d like to be a published writer. When I was 30, I started writing poetry. I self-published one booklet, and had one poem published in a magazine. I didn’t receive any pay for these efforts. I’d like to see if I can actually earn money with this proclivity to write. Aside from a few curriculum guides commissioned by my former employer, I haven’t had any paying work since last December. And now, my car needs repairs and registration plates. It’s time to go out into the world and seek some income.
You have no idea how neurotic I could be about this. My kids have much more work experience than I. I have urged them out into the job market on many occasions with peppy confidence talks, and they’ve always had some measure of success. It’s part of their skill set. I kind of freeze up inside and whine, “But I don’t know how to do this! I wasn’t brought up to do this!” I’m sure some of you are incredulous. Let me explain: my mother hasn’t had a paying job since she graduated and married in 1955. She is a brilliant and accomplished woman with a BA from our nation’s most prestigious institute of higher learning (yes, that one, but the women’s version from the pre-co-ed days). She’s worked on countless volunteer committees and made important contributions to many communities. But she hasn’t had a paying job. It’s actually possible to live without one. I grew up thinking that employment was optional, not mandatory. And I’m glad that I did. I think it allows me to think outside a very pernicious box. It also gnaws at my sense of security at times.
Many people believe that education is primarily a pre-requisite for being more competitive in the job market. A smaller percentage believe that education is simply engaging with life; it needs no framework from society and no economic impetus. It’s the joyful occupation of people with brains. (That would be all of us.) A Buddhist might look for a Middle Way between the practical and the ideological posture of learning. That’s where I want to be. I don’t want to be defined by my wage-earning potential. I don’t want to be so high in an ivory tower that I can’t find a way to feed myself, either. I am sure that I can use the skills I have, and new skills that I can acquire, to secure my basic needs. And I’m pretty sure I can do it in a way that doesn’t enslave me to something I resent.
Maybe this is the meaning behind the statement made by the founder of my Alma Mater: “The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.”
Corny? Elitist? Profound? What has your education developed in you?