I just got done (mercifully) doing a double-delete on a post I was writing about higher education. I was out of my depth. The post was completely derivative and based on a book I am reading called The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations by Christopher Lasch, first published in 1979 and said to be a “national bestseller.” It is a fun book, in fact, even exciting for me is it mentions so many names, movements, perversions and attitudes that I grew up in, through and around. (Just to name one, there is the mythical female orgasm. Trust me, it doesn’t happen.)
I was going to cover his Section VI, Schooling and the New Illiteracy, that is covered from pages 125 to 153, but I realized as I sweated it out that it was completely derivative. I know nothing of what it is like now or in decades and centuries past to attend Harvard or Berkeley or to be home-schooled or, as my mother, educated in the basics in a one-room prairie school. I have only my own experience, and it hardly qualifies to pass judgment on anything or anyone else.
All I can say from observation is that these days teachers like to call themselves “educators,” and that the end-product is high school graduates who are highly susceptible to advertising and know nothing of compound interest, have zero resistance to propaganda, who are owned body, soul and mind by media. The military feasts on our high school graduates, as so many appear to have so little hope for a better life otherwise.
That’s pretty general, I know. I don’t embrace herding them into buildings and forbidding them even being in the hallway between bells, what our friend Steve Kelly calls “warehousing” of kids. They are getting them out of our hair, boring them till they imagine boredom to be a required course in life. The twelve years of education we all endure could easily be reduced to a couple, but then what would we do?
All I can say with certainty about my own “higher” education is that when I graduated college, I had a very good grasp of the principles of accounting, little else. I remember now a few other courses that impacted me. What follows are the few memories that stand out:
- Finance taught by a professional investment advisor that took us to the nuts and bolts of bonds and stocks, refreshing and enlightening. He taught us about “whole life insurance,” a scam that in those days few understood.
- Real estate taught by a goofball, Cody J., who was a real estate salesman and who once sealed a deal on a farmhouse by accepting a goat as down payment, putting it in his back seat and driving it back to Billings. I cannot shake that image.
- Introduction to Logic, my first and only exposure to that subject, wherein I discovered that matters discussed in the classroom often do not translate easily into real life. I was going to enter life easily identifying fallacies, only to learn that they are deeply embedded and hard to uncover.
- A history course covering the period leading up to World War II wherein the professor described the various types of craft used to transport soldiers from ship to land. It was fascinating, but I’ve now misplaced that knowledge, the only interesting thing in the entire course.
- An creative writing course wherein the professor broke down in tears one day, reading a piece he wrote, and then saying it reminded him of “old friends.” He was not self-absorbed. He was self-saturated. He was married to a woman who did movie reviews for the local newspaper, also self-absorbed, giving high praise to some seriously bad movies, she the movie aficionado, the rest of us unable to distinguish shit from Shinola. He died young, and she insisted that a small memorial be built for him on-campus. I wonder if it is still there.
- An English course I decided to challenge … I sat in a room with maybe fifty others, and was told to write an essay about a cliche’ and my real-life experience with it … I sat there for maybe twenty minutes trying to come up with something, and finally had an inkling and wrote. It was very hard work. When it came time to face the music, I sat opposite a very nice man who calmly explained to me that very few pass muster on challenges. He was surprised to open the folder before him and say “Hmmm, you passed!”
- A course in tennis – PE was still a required subject. I was not and never would be very good, and yet when it came time to show my backhand, always thereafter my weakness, I nailed that sucker! I had some grace under pressure.
- A class in jogging wherein I discovered 1) if I held back, I got to meet some very nice girls and chat with them at length, and 2) that the course that followed, some legal thing, found me sweating like a pig, even after a shower. My body slowly cools down. I sat in the back of the room, a mess. Did I mention that it was a summer course?
- Two very nice men, Dr. Aaron Small and “Shorty” Alterowitz, both Ashkenazi Jew (I suppose), both wise and knowledgeable, patient, never showing disdain for any of us poor cretins darkening the doors of this land grant college. Shorty advised us one day (in a health course) always to make sure the woman is satisfied first, that illusive female orgasm thing. Even this wise and learned man would fall victim to myth.
- A course in Administrative Theory and Policy wherein I was challenged (this was more or less a graduation exercise) to work with a small group and analyze a small hospital and its accounting and other policies. I had to make a long presentation and be grilled by the other classmates. At the beginning I was visibly nervous, probably sweating. I picked up a pointer and began to review some data, my voice shaky, other students probably sympathizing. Something kicked in. I found my confidence, nailed the presentation, owned the room. It was not life-altering, as I still had so much ground to cover. It was only grade-altering.
That’s about it. I look back now on my college days and marvel at how little I knew or understood as I left that institution in my past. It taught me a few things, I transcended a few barriers, but in the end it only left me able to perform accounting tasks with any measure of competence. Everything else was to be figured out slowly and down the road, an ongoing process.