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In which a rant devolves into a blithering self-help affirmation.

I no longer believe in education. And that’s probably a problem for a “teacher.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I still believe in knowledge and curiosity and facts and experimentation and learning… Just not the commodified product the education industry is peddling. I no longer believe the myth that a degree — any degree — equals a “good job” or that a “good job” is defined solely by ever-larger paychecks. (Though, I also don’t think a “good job” is an ever-increasing pile of meaningless work and other people’s problems and stress for increasingly-smaller amounts of money unless maybe your ideal career is religious martyr or trust-fund philanthropist.) It seems you need a degree for “any” job these days, which kind of makes the whole thing less than special. It’s created a whole new market for the kind of “degree” being sold these days — and make no mistake those things are being marketed like fast food and it takes only slightly longer to digest their content — that doesn’t reward learning so much as the timely payment of tuition, the regurgitation of basic facts in a clicker-run multiple guess format, and the ability to jump through a series of boring, pointless hoops.

My first year of college, I was in the “honor’s college” at my university and one of the classes I took was called “War, Peace, Justice, & Human Survival.” We read a lot of lengthy excerpts from weighty tomes and argued about controversial concepts in person and in essays. Do I think what I did in that class has a direct application in a job? No. Certainly not. Do I think it was one of the more valuable classes I took? Yeah. It taught us to confront topics that can be controversial and to do so in a way that challenges our beliefs without insulting or dismissing them. It taught us to be able to construct an argument from both sides — in other words to better figure out what the other side is thinking — I still find it easier to figure out what another side is “thinking” versus what they’re “feeling.” Feeling is fuzzy and unquantifiable. It also taught us about standing up for beliefs even when they aren’t popular because compliance can lead to things like Hitler. (We covered some other examples but he’s easiest because, really, most Germans at the time were hardly evil. They’d just been sold a bill of lies and they had a reasons to be invested in believing the bill of lies. There were plenty of people of that age working in factories making war machines on both sides who either truly felt what they were doing was right or just needed the paycheck.)

Just needing a paycheck has led to a lot of human atrocities over the millennia. Which is one reason why I’m not so sure we should be locking “education” the idea, the concept, the purpose up in a little cage made of paychecks and resumes and faux certifications that only serve to pad someone’s pockets. (Yes, I want my commercial airline pilot to have taken enough classes and done enough flights to be rubber stamped as competent. No, I don’t care if a “project manager” has a PM or PMI laser-printed certificate on his or her desk. Managing a few projects (even in one’s personal life) can be plenty of “training” for such things.)

All the testing and certifications and overpriced pieces of paper? They don’t seem to have done that much for graduation rates or getting people into “good jobs” either. Partly because we’ve managed to disenfranchise all the kids who are three generations beyond the American Dream myth, who’ve never seen anyone get a “good job” and have no reason to try in school if that’s the ultimate goal. Partly because there’s a limited supply of these “good jobs” and a huge supply of cashier and barista jobs, far fewer “good jobs” than we have sold these degrees to fill. There’s so much discrepancy at this point that getting a degree almost feels like a $60,000 lottery ticket. You mortgage your future wages on the chance that you’ll have some. It’s an asinine system and I’m not sure I can sell it anymore with a straight face.

Which makes me sound jaded and angry and rudderless.

Here’s the thing, I still believe in things. I believe, perhaps hopelessly or idealistically or foolhardedly, in art. Visual art, aural art, static, kinetic. I believe in books. I believe in paintings. I believe in plays. I believe in independent films. I believe in our ability to seek out meaning in our world through making and exploring art. I believe the biggest, hardest themes are easier to grasp through art. (For example, the little collection of prose poems, Tales From a Child of the Enemy by Ursula Duba does better at explaining what it meant to be German during and after World War II and how the propaganda lived on than any textbook I’ve encountered.)

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I believe in nature. I believe in sunsets and sunrises, in warm days and snowy nights. I believe in the majestic beauty of a mountain range and the subtle (stinky) beauty of the swamp. I believe in sitting on a warm red rock staring out at the valley. I believe in watching the stars twinkle from a canoe. I believe in dragonflies and earthworms and native lizards. I believe in finding myself by not looking so hard. By sitting still and listening to my own head instead of the million and four pundits shouting for airspace.

I believe in exploring because things are there. I believe in reading because books are magic (even when they’re terrible). I believe in running and biking and paddling and being the best awkward martial artist I can. I believe in writing, even when I am convinced my own is a steaming pile of alligator poop. I believe in good food with good friends, which means I’m a fan of kitchen experiments.

I believe in creating. I believe in curiosity.

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