Higher Education and Me

I had lunch with my aunt on Wednesday, and we talked about several things, but one that stuck in my mind was our discussion about education.
 
I’m pretty sure I never want to go back to school to get another degree. Although there were a lot of things I enjoyed about both my experiences in higher education, there was a whole lot that I found intensely stressful as well, and most of it had to do with how academia is set up.
 
I actually really love learning, as most people who know me are aware. As a child I loved watching History Channel and Animal Planet (back when they had actual history and actual animal footage, rather than the current lineups of reality show after reality show) because of what I learned. I love inserting random factoids into conversations, and talking about what interesting things I’ve learned recently.
 
What I don’t love is sitting in lectures, being assigned readings (especially for “required” classes that have little bearing on what I actually intend to do), and having to regurgitate information I barely absorbed for tests. I don’t like feeling like I’m under a microscope, or that my grade is resting on one final project, or dealing with professors who care too little about their students and too much about their egos. I don’t like how anxious and unhappy I feel all the time, how difficult it is for me to deal with my procrastination (which for some reason I’m usually much better able to handle when I’m being paid, I still haven’t figured that out yet), how often I feel like I’m letting people down by not doing my best work.
 
Again, I don’t want to imply that higher education is horrible and I hated it. But what I know is that I enjoy learning when there aren’t high stakes attached to it. I know that once I get settled with my career and living situation, I’m going to want to find a local college where I can audit classes as a “lifelong learner”, simply for the fun of it, to stay sharp by matching wits with young people who think they know everything (and may surprise me in my jaded old age with what they do know), to learn about subjects I have only minimal knowledge of currently, to improve my understanding of subjects I’m already fairly well-versed in. Some of my happiest memories from my time in undergrad were classes I took for fun, things I didn’t even really need to graduate and had nothing to do with my major, just things I found fascinating and wanted to know more about.
 
And I hate writing essays. Free-form writing like this, the kind of writing I can do for blog posts and social media, I love it. Essay writing is torture and I hate it. Even worse when I have to write essay questions on tests, when I almost always run out of time because I try to write too much or think too long before starting. Essays are evil and I hate them.
I have many friends who’ve chosen the academic life, and I have the utmost respect for them (they wouldn’t be my friends otherwise). Like teaching, it isn’t the life I want, I don’t enjoy it and I’m not good at it. I’m so thankful that there are smart, talented people who love it, because that means I’m free to choose another path.
Of course, I expect that I’ll take classes in the future, get certifications of various kinds (I definitely want to get my C1 in German, and eventually Japanese as well). But I don’t plan to have a “Dr.” in front of my last name. And for the foreseeable future, I don’t plan to go back to higher education. That isn’t where I want to be. That isn’t where my joy is.
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