Adult Education: A Primer


So, you didn’t graduate from college.

(Why is that, anyway? Were you dumb? Poor? Lazy? Mentally ill? Inconsistent with birth control? A Phish fan who couldn’t resist the lure of the tour?)

Well, whatever the reason, now that you’re a few years down the road, you realize that you may have really screwed the pooch as far as career advancement and cocktail chatter are concerned. (“What year did you graduate?” “I…went to (name of school) until 1997.”) But it’s okay! You can finish your education as an adult. There are just a few questions you need to answer for yourself first.

1. Do you have a lot of money you’re not using or planning to use? Maybe you only recently shed the burden of student loans from your first joust with the ivory tower, and now you’re thinking, Man, I miss paying that bill. You’re in luck! Because school is expensive. It’s not just tuition, it’s also books and the astronomical opportunity cost of all the things you’ll no longer be able to do. You will probably get to borrow money again. Enjoy!

2. Do you have a lot of leisure time that you’re dying to fill with drudgery? Solution — school! Nothing whiles away the hours after work and on weekends like six chapters a week of Psychology 101 or 300 pages on modern Irish history. Oh wait, did I say or? I meant and. Six chapters AND 300 pages.

3. Do you enjoy writing in a manner that is pointlessly constrained, dry, and formulaic? You hit the jackpot bucko, because you’ll be doing that nonstop. Fifteen pages on gender differences in use of language — Happy St. Patrick’s Day! A PowerPoint presentation on the genesis of prion disease — Merry Christmas, baby! Welcome to the salon of liberal artistes. Who needs hobbies/ companionship/ sex/ sleep anyway, when you can make a bibliography instead? But ah ah ah, mister, be careful! Points off if you use the wrong font size/ margins/ spacing/ naming convention! And however closely you think you’re following the assigned style guide, you’re wrong! TURABIAN that, bitches!

4. Do you like being told what to read and when to read it? I sure do! One of the chief frustrations of my adult life used to be that there are so few good books to read and so much time to not read them. Not any more! Now I get a list of books every 6-10 weeks that I have to plow through, and at least half of them are fantastically, laughably overpriced, which helps me with number one above. Even really interesting topics can be made painfully, grindingly dull when academics sink their teeth in. Ask yourself, would you rather read a gussied-up Master’s thesis on globalization or have dental work done? Whatever you say now, by your second semester your answer will be Thank god I have dental insurance, crappy though it is!

5. Do you enjoy pointlessly cumbersome technology? Then you are going to LOVE the online learning component of your classes! The system doesn’t quite employ a greenscreen, but it’s just as clunky and counterintuitive as it would be if it did. Remember when email was really hard to use and had a terrible interface? Welcome back to the bad old days with Blackboard and Blackboard Vista! I don’t know why universities can’t make use of readily available technological advances like everyone else has, but thank god they don’t.  I say if you can’t do it in Internet Explorer 6 with a Java plugin that never works and four separate passwords, it’s simply not worth doing.

BONUS: If you enjoy reading the unbalanced rantings of people on message boards — in college these days, that’s your homework! Guess what? At least one person in all your classes likes to write at length about God and sociology or God and biology or God and iambic pentameter. So fun and fascinating! Amen!

6. Do you wish you knew more people with overinflated egos? Academia is for you! Forget your job experience and hard-won life lessons; it’s people who have spent their lives on campus who really know what’s up. It’s especially fun to take a class that dovetails with your professional life and find out how very little you know about things. Thank heavens you get the benefit of learning from professors who DO know (what books say about things).

7. Do you miss the innocence and naiveté of your youth? You’re going to get a big heaping dose of that loving feeling when your professors and academic advisors start talking to you like you just fell off the top of your parents’ station wagon!  Just go with it — as I said, the things you’ve learned in the decades since you last set foot in a classroom are meaningless anyway. And you’ll save a ton on moisturizer if you start thinking of yourself as a high school graduate! (Oh, ha ha, that’s how we got here in the first place — I meant a recent high school graduate.)

8. Do you have a completely flexible schedule that you can conform entirely to the demands of an arbitrary academic calendar? You’d better hope so, because attendance counts — just tell your boss that you’re not going on that business trip because you can’t miss the lecture on use of metaphor in the work of Flannery O’Connor. And office hours are usually Tuesday from 11 a.m. – 11:45 a.m., so don’t schedule any meetings then either if you know what’s good for you! Your job responsibilities will wait.

9. Do you still harbor a naughty dream of sleeping with one of your professors? Just put some leather elbow patches on the next time you masturbate. It will be much more fulfilling. You don’t have time for an affair anyway — you have two papers due this week!

In sum, going back to school as an adult is an amazing opportunity for personal growth. Sure, you don’t get to do any of the stuff you actually enjoyed when you went to college last time, like staying up late gossiping with your roommates, or drinking two-for-one pitchers of beer five nights a week, or going to concerts in grubby little clubs on Mondays at 11, or discovering postmodernism and being blown away by how, like, deep it is and stuff, but that’s okay. Post-adolescent you already did that! But you do get to see just how much inane hoop-jumping you can endure now that you are all grown up.

Before you embark on this great journey, take a moment to picture post-adolescent you, all firm-skinned and bedheaded. Whatever circumstances drove that person to drop out, they seem petty and inconsequential now, don’t they? I mean, yes, when I dropped out I was utterly impoverished as well horrifically depressed and wishing I were dead, but I think I could have soldiered on if I’d had more spine.

Now visualize kicking 20-year-old you in the face for being such a moron and putting you in this position as an adult. Your therapist may suggest that forgiving yourself would be the healthier course, but you will soon learn to distrust everyone with advanced degrees, so pay no attention.

And don’t forget, registration for spring classes opens soon! I get to take statistics, because it’s beautiful outside and my birthday is coming up and nothing else in my life is hard at all right now. At least I get to pay full price for the privilege!

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image – Fields of View