Turning up a nose at education

Although neither of my parents graduated from college, I knew from an early age that I would. So, in addition to keeping my grades up, I started socking away my babysitting money to pay for tuition.

Since we lived in a college town it was also understood that it made no sense to go off somewhere and live in a dorm, no matter how I longed to be out from under my parent’s eagle eye, not when I had a perfectly good bedroom at home and food on the table.

So far, I see nothing snobbish about the path I took to higher education, contrary to what GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum yammered about during his campaign. In fact, lawmakers could take a page from my book as I paid every dime of my tuition on my own, no loans. Of course the hours I spent working, sometimes two jobs, took time away from studying. Fortunately no prospective employer ever asked to see my grade transcript.

I wouldn’t be able to take that route today, however, not the way tuition has skyrocketed. My niece has been out of school 10 years and still paying off student loans.

OK, I admit to having had flashes of badmouthing higher education here and there myself, but it’s not because I want to somehow whip up voters, although who exactly was Santorum trying to attract? Sometimes my disdain was because I was jealous of those who had the means to spend a semester abroad, or when one boyfriend after the other decided to run off and go to grad school, leaving me in the dust.

Having spent a lifetime in the news business, I encountered a number of reporters with master’s degrees who had no clue what made a good story and admittedly I didn’t mind poking fun at them. They would have been better served working the night side cop beat for a real education.

Assumptions and perceptions about people, whether from politicians or the rest of us, sometimes can take little twists.

I come from a family of five children and our father made his living building houses, and not in a big developer, big money way. When our high school guidance counselor told my older brother that, given those facts, maybe he should consider a trade school, my father was furious at the putdown— even though he was proud of the way he could work with his hands—and long remembered it. On the day my brother graduated from college, Dad wanted to call up the counselor just to let him know.

Not everyone wants to go off to the ivy-covered halls of learning and the world is ripe with examples of success without sheepskin.

First to come to mind is college dropout Steve Jobs. My first editor had only a high school diploma and to this day I remember how smart and talented he was. One of my best friends had a year at a community college and is pulling down an enviable salary based on her hard work.

But Rick Santorum better not think he has the best putdown of the eggheads. That would go to the time my brother, wearing a jacket with his college’s insignia, ran out of gas and had to walk a half mile to knock on a farmer’s door for help. The farmer spat tobacco juice at my brothers’ feet before snipping. “Real smart there, college boy.”

 

—Nancy Luse writes from Frederick, Md., where she’s thinking of taking a correspondence class she learned about on the back of a pack of matches.

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