Monday, July 06, 2009

More thoughts on the value of an M.A.:

When I think back on the things I used to mull over on a daily basis in graduate school -- the future of education, the definition of writing, postmodern philosophy, literature, feminism, class issues, race issues -- I'm delightfully shocked that at one point my occupation was to think about those things. I'm very jealous of my former self. A little over a year ago, my whole world was writing paper after paper, the prof hands out the assignment sheet and the paper's due in one month, start thinking about it now. Decide on a fabulous topic and read 10 books from the library, write your notes into Microsoft Word and cut and paste and delete and expound until you were sure you'd get an A.

I like to think that I'm still that idealistic person that questioned the status quo in paper after paper. I was going to change the way students learn to write, and set the academic world on fire with my theory on feminism and technology, and form my own resistance movement against hegemonic forces. I would like to believe the notion that an education stays with you, that it forms your mind forever and shapes all your future work. But the truth is, none of the things I studied tends to be on my mind on a daily basis right now.

Ugh, the real world. It is SO different from my life back then. My world is now a world of lists. Every day I make lists and check the items off one by one. The working world seems to reward doing over thinking, so "doing" has become my specialty and thinking gets left by the side of the road. My motivation is statistics, a measure of whether what I'm doing is effective, and underlying that, of course, is money. Money, ugh.

Where did my education go? I feel like I locked it away in the back of a closet in my mind, just like all my school notebooks are now sitting next to my shoes in my bedroom closet, most likely never to be looked at again. Did I forget everything? Who has time for the revolution these days?

But once in a while I'll take a deep breath and take a step back from my work, the clouds will part and it will come through clearly, oh, this is an example of what I learned in school. This is exactly how technology is changing how we communicate. That is how women are still being objectified. That Foucault guy was totally right about a lot of things. The things I learned during my M.A. don't help much with the lists, and that's frustrating, but once in a while I'll think about things in a "meta-level" way and see that the theories are based in reality.

It begs the question, What is the point of an education anyway? At the most basic level, the point of school is that you're supposed to get out of it eventually and apply what you learned. Sure, you hope school can help you with the day-to-day grind, but can't it also include those meta-level moments, so you don't just see exactly what is in front of you and nothing beyond that?

On reflection, the price was steep for it. Not so much the tuition money itself (though it was not cheap) but two and a half years of my life, isn't that a bit much time to have spent in the library reading about philosophy of language? Wouldn't it have been better to have started on a career earlier? I have four years less experience than most people my age.

I wish I could end all this with a triumphant conclusion that *of course* an M.A. was worth getting but I don't know if I can say that. Maybe the biggest problem was my mindset, not taking school more seriously, not having a goal with it, which made it not as useful as it could be. I approached my M.A. the same way I did piano lessons -- nice to know how to do, I put in a decent effort but didn't go all out, knowing I wasn't exactly going to be playing a Chopin concert anytime soon. Maybe it was an impractical thing to do, something that shouldn't have been Number One on the life to-do list if I really wanted to get ahead. But does everything have to lead up to a predetermined goal? The listmaker in me says yes, but the student revolutionary doesn't seem to think so, and well, you know which one has my heart.

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