I have a terrible habit of expressing things in the most hostile and exaggerated terms, so allow me to clarify my last post.
I don’t believe that formal education, or for that matter, the four-year college degree is without its place in society. It absolutely does have a place. It is a Good Thing. My problem is that it displaces too many other potential Good Things, and no one seemed to care until recently. Why?
Of all the prerequisites for college, the obvious #1 should be the desire to learn things from books for the next four years. It’s a fairly straightforward yes-no decision, and I do think the average 18 year-old knows which bucket they belong in. You may disagree, and I’ll respect that opinion, though I may still call you a paternalistic creep. We should all long for a day when redistribution of tuition dollars subsidizes the education of kids who actually want to be educated ahead of ace test-takers who are only going to college because they’re convinced there’s no other path.
I understand that physical work that pays the bills has been virtually extinct for quite some time. I have no answers for that; let’s see what the future holds. Nevertheless, young legs are a precious commodity, and the way so many are left to waste strikes me as sinful, regardless of immediate context. No, I don’t think every strapping young gentleman should sweat away his youthful virility in the stockyards, but if for four years, its only use is intramural rugby and the Greek Olympics, there’d better be something pretty damned special coming out those brains on the other side. Put me in a rocking chair if you must, but I consider any culture where building alcohol tolerance is a practiced and valued physical pursuit to be gravely degenerate. Consumption for the sake of increased future consumption—what a concept; what a feat! The moment this realization fully sunk in was the moment I became embarrassed to be a student.
Anyway, this is all history, and I’m over it. (Believe me? I didn’t think so.) I hope I never write another post like this again, and I will only have original and factual things to say from now on.
I know I shouldn’t fret. Balance will find us one way or another. I just hope it’s like a lost puppy and not like a dragon.
I guess the story goes like so: Us Gen Y’s got duped by the Boomer cult of academia into an endless state of dependence that we long to escape but never will for lack of initiative; that we’ve barely left the womb, just substituting one form of guardianship for another with each gradatory token of progression; that even our success stories are narcissistic whiners seeking supervisory approval.
Whew, I’m glad someone else finally said it.
Seriously, though, I don’t put too much stock in the X-Y-Z-Boomer trope, yet I completely buy into it. I enjoy the narrative that well-intended parents of every generation do their best to correct for the last, never knowing their fatal flaw until the offspring overcompensate when their time to procreate rolls around, so continuing the cycle. It’s simultaneous proof of the importance and futility of parenting, and I think that’s fascinating.
It’s taken way too long to realize that the exaggerated thresholds of our education and credentialing systems have a downside, but we can’t change the past. Still, it’s a travesty that so many of my peers went into extreme debt to do little but raise the prestige of Boomer values—well-roundedness and self-discovery and all that—and I even feel sympathy for the Boomer parents saddled with much of this debt. They were only following advice, but I wonder why so few advisers threw cold water on the “more education means more earning potential” mantra before the surplus of unskilled grads and humanities PhD’s grew out of control. Now they’re hopelessly broke; many do regret their education, and being well-rounded is at best small comfort, at worst a blatant lie.
But now I’m just slinging clichés.
Eye on the ball: We’re clearly moving toward intelligent adolescents having the choice of freedom-plus-risk over formal academia, and if this is the path ahead of Gen Z, I envy them and someday hope to employ them. By then, a little reflection and a little more power should give us Y’s the confidence to openly acknowledge how we really feel about college education and hire uncredentialed Z’s without reservation. Whereas our college degrees signal commitment, compliance, and—ha!—responsibility to our current employers, self-teaching will signal to us the initiative we wish we’d had but never found.
That said, I may be too optimistic to think that us team-playing Gen Y’s will ever ascend to management level; Gen X may have to pass that baton straight to Gen Z, though grudgingly, I suspect. Whereas the shared collectivism of Gen Y’s and Boomers bond us together, the individualism of Xers and Z’s may lead to stubborn confrontation. And when that time comes, where will the Z’s find their cogs? I figure us Y’s will produce kids squishy enough to fit the role, even if credentialism is passé. Of course, by then I expect credentialism to be on the comeback; whether by necessity or fear, I’m not sure.
All that said, it’s absurd to look so far into the future, and I think these generational differences are just tools that charlatans use to sell management seminars and life-coaching services. And stripping charlatans of their professional titles and esteem is what this is all about.
So tell me again why I wrote this post?