A Degree in Failure

So I’ve gotta be honest, I hate math. I know we’re just starting into the New Year and that we need to focus on more positive and kind thoughts, but if there is one thing that I will continue to loathe with every fiber of my being it's the world of dreaded algebra, calculus, and the PTSD-inducing trigonometry. I still remember sitting in that cold, dingy classroom in high school studying statistics and probability, and feeling chips of my soul fly away into the ether. Of course this was before the world of college came along took a hefty sledgehammer to the rest of that poor sucker. The way that I always figured it – math never tried to solve any of my problems so why should I find solutions for it? See, my strengths lie in the world of languages, writing, and arts, which are essentially the polar opposite to the black and white world of numbers. People who are great with all those complex calculations, god speed and all the more power to you.

Yet now that I’ve graduated and have spent two whole years masquerading under the façade of a barely functioning adult, I’ve had a whole slew of problems hurled my way that are necessary to be independent, some with numbers and some not. Namely: calculating interest rate, learning about insurance, how to get a good credit score, how to research mortgages on decent homes, basic car and home repair, and the piece de resistance – taxes. And the real shocker is that in the four years I was in high school, four years in college – none of these were ever included in our curriculum. Oh yeah, I’m so glad I spent all that time on parallelograms since it’s really come in hand this parallelogram season. And honestly why would I spend all that time learning about health insurance and ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle when I already know that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. And while we’re at it – who needs to learn about the laws of the country that you live in when learning about Henry VIII and his slew of wives is much more important.

For me, like generations before me, all these questions that I mentioned I’m still learning on a trial by error basis. Everyday I’m trying to understand how to solve them because I want to be able to thrive on my own while leaving my mark on this world. Just as I’m sure many of you out there want to do the same, instead of staying rooted at home flicking through the latest cat videos and feeling like you’re seeping deeper into the foundation, like you’re stuck in quicksand. So I learned through experience – I kept making better and better mistakes until I was only making the best mistakes. And for the solutions I couldn’t get on my own I’d ask my parents for advice, or friends, peers, and mentors in trying to tackle those obstacles. But here’s the irony – that vital knowledge was obtained for free, without incurring the debt-inducing consequences of a hefty tuition.

We hear it, see it, and read it every time we scroll through our newsfeed, turn on the TV, or overhear a conversation at work. Everyone has to share their viewpoint on why so many millennials remain at home after they graduate, stuck in a form of ossified stasis. Some blame helicopter parenting, others say it’s the lingering aftershocks of the financial crisis, and more say that we’re an entitled bunch of loudmouths that expect to have a decent job right off the bat. It’s always a delight too when you hear grandparents and uncles and fathers go on about how in the old days they were out of the house when they were eighteen, had a job, and were already engaged before they could legally drink. But to be fair, each of these people bring up certain points about responsibility, self-reliance, and resourcefulness that ring true – I’ll admit that I expected getting a job would be as easy as it was to stand on that stage at the Superdome (yes it’s the Mercedes Dome officially, but for everyone it still remains the Superdome) and receive my diploma. So while many people are invested in researching this issue, it's time we take a more critical look at where we spend most of our time growing up and getting those great expectations - the academic system.

To start us off, I’ll use myself as an example. When I graduated from college I was a Liberal Arts double major in International Relations and Theater Performance. Now I know what you’re thinking – this guy should be a moneymaker already, I mean talk about a rising career. The truth was, like many incoming students I didn’t know what I wanted to choose as my career, so I combined what I was passionate about (theater) with what I was intellectually intrigued by (global politics and issues) with prospects of law school lingering in the future. Like many liberal arts students I had a core set of credits that I had to fulfill on top of those for my two majors, which were deeply set in traditional education – things like Philosophy, Sociology, taking an Earth Science lab and – my favorite – figuring out Symbolic Logic in order to evade the Math credit. And while the purpose of this was understandable (to obtain a well-rounded education), like many others I kept coming back to the same issue: what the hell do these extraneous credits have to do with my two interests, and where would I use them in the real world?

Now imagine if those credits that I mentioned were altered. Instead of Earth Science, what if there was a course that focused on basic financial management and how one could invest? A course built around credit scores, budgeting, and taxes etc. that was accessible for all students and not just those in the Business School. Instead of Volunteer Service, what about a course similar to Wood Shop, where instead students would encounter household issues like plumbing, electricity, or dryers and washers breaking down and had to learn how to fix them. They don’t have to become experts, but at least they’d know basic steps to take to try to resolve the problem on their own. In replacement of Psychology 101, where students have to learn everything about psych literally crammed into one semester, what if there was a streamlined course that taught students basic first aid, and how to recognize the most severe mental disorders in one’s everyday life? Imagine the number of lives that could be spared, affected, saved, and helped on a daily basis. And while it’s always fascinating having to learn about ancient Greek philosophy, couldn’t there also be a course dedicated to understanding the basic rights of a citizen in this nation and understanding how to best stay informed before casting a vote? Sure none of these may sound particularly interesting, but if we are able to learn thoroughly about these real matters that are necessary to our lives going forward, imagine how much better we could handle them versus the generation before.

Yes it's true that traditional education is an important foundation to our knowledge, and to never underestimate the value that can be found from the past in order to improve the future. Yet the future will remain stagnant and daunting if we aren't equipped with the real world knowledge to help propel us forward and over those obstacles that coming with striking out on our own once we graduate. If this fusion could occur, maybe we could finally understand how not to mistake knowledge for wisdom, where one helps you make a living, while the other helps you make a life.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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