The above picture is me trying to recreate my kindergarten school photo. The sweater is a darker shade of blue, but I did try to add a small blue bow. So, there I am after my M.S. in teaching and again at the beginning of it all. I actually took the photo last fall, as I knew that this past fall was going to be a very special school year. It was going to be the last year at St. Scholastica! St. Scholastica where…so long ago…I began my undergraduate degree. This is where I ended my master’s degree! Those gray towers represent so many harsh, lonely winters and long, empty days. I struggled with my first degree. I did not make a single friend at CSS. Not one. I worked full time and went to school full time…and lived with my family. Plus, I lacked the social skills to make friends back then. Yuck. I’ve come a long way from those lonely first years of college.
One week ago, I did my capstone presentation. After adding up all of the points from the entire program, I calculated that I completed the program with 99.33% of the points available in all of my classes. That feels nice. This year, I only missed 1.25 points between the classes I took. I missed .25 points for using the wrong font on my header. That also feels nice. I feel validated by numbers. As for the capstone presentation, it was pretty easy. It was just a short presentation on a data project that I completed this semester. The project was a content analysis of three world history textbooks, wherein I analyzed the content using James Bank’s 17 point Checklist for Evaluating Materials. The checklist is a 17 criteria diversity checklist which uses Likert Scale which rates book on a scale of one to six based upon their coverage of women’s history, African American history, ethnic minorities, linguistic minorities, social classes, etc. The rating is fairly subjective and was designed for American history materials. I adapted the language of the checklist to say “core society” instead of “U.S. Society” so that it would be more applicable for world history courses. In this sense, the project draws a little from Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory, as well as Multicultural Education. The three books that I rated did pretty terribly, but interestingly, the book used in an AP World History course performed the worse. The project ended up being 90 pages and was far from perfect. However, it was fun to sit down and analyze how history is presented in textbooks.
With this, I am done. It is odd. I have been in school a long time. Being in school has become a way of life. I know this makes me odd. It certainly makes me in debt. This is my second masters. This follows two bachelor degrees. Usually, I am looking to the future. What classes will I take in the fall? What degree will I pursue next? Instead, I am done. Done and without direction. I even made my first student loan payment last week. It is like a new era of the normal life. The life that everyone else lives. Normal people do not go to school forever. I have even come to learn that normal people think you are bizarre if you go to school forever. It is so bizarre that I really don’t advertise it. Of course, I write about it here and feel proud of it. In other ways, I feel ashamed.
I feel a little sad. I used to dream of having dozens of degrees before I die. I could be a botanist or environmental scientist. How about an art degree? What about English? Another Masters Degree? Why not try a M.A. in History next time. The sky is the limit. Down the road there would be a Ph.d in something. I would be an eccentric old polymath. My brother mocked me for even wanting to be a polymath. I am not trapped in a delusion of grandeur, I just want to know everything. I want to collect degrees like some old ladies collect porcelain clowns. The reality is that this would amount to so much debt that it would be both irresponsible if not impossible. So, I feel sad as I put this dream on the shelf for a while.
Oh, it isn’t an impossible dream. There are ways to go to school without debt. I could pay for a class here and there and at a glacial pace collect more degrees if that is what I find suits me. Some master’s programs are funded, so there is always that. And, I could always work at a university and take free classes that way. There are ways. But for now, I think it is time for some time off.
I wonder what is wrong with me. Some people might suppose that a person who stays in school forever is trying to escape the real world. But, I have lived in the real world. I’ve usually worked full time while in school. I have hobbies and am involved in activism/community. This is my real world. Some people might also suppose that I need to show off or have something to prove. That could be somewhat true. My self esteem may be tied to getting A’s. But, I don’t really show off. At a certain point, there is too much education. Education is an embarrassment! And, I don’t want people to feel inferior to me, so if I meet a stranger, I don’t usually talk about schooling. I recognize that it is a privilege. I have the ability to conform to educational settings. I don’t have children. I don’t have responsibilities. I can assume debt without consequence to anyone but myself. And, from time to time, the costs may be defrayed by scholarships or graduate assistantships.
At some level, I connect school with progress. I feel that if I am not in school, I will become a sloppy thinker with a dopey mind. School keeps me sharp. It forces me to read things and do things that I wouldn’t on my own. On my own, I read and learn, but do not typically write papers or do projects. I am afraid that if I am not in school, I will become lazy or stagnant. Also, school gives me a goal to work on. I know that in X number of years or X number of credits, a degree will be done. Life does not provide the same predictable benchmarks for achievement. What’s more, school seems full of choice and possibility. I could study almost anything. I could become knowledgeable in a smorgasbord of disciplines. What a wonderful idea!
To be fair, school does not make me better or smarter. I have forgotten many things over the years. But, I feel that I know a little about a lot. I can make connections between things, even if I can’t remember all of the details. It isn’t worth the price of tuition. Why bother at all? I think it has symbolic value. Education doles out rewards in symbols. Some are letters:, A, B, C and some are numbers, like GPA and percentages. It is a strange currency that means little outside the institution itself. I’m addicted to these rewards, like a trained dolphin to fish. School is a place where I feel competent.
With that said, I meet the end of the school year with sadness and fear. There is some relief mixed in, sure. It is nice to be done. Most people probably feel accomplishment. I only feel hunger for what is next. Unfortunately, I don’t know. It saddens my heart to think that next fall will come and there will be no classes! There will be dry autumn leaves, but no new educational beginnings. Short, crisp days but no new school clothes and supplies. No early mornings with frost on the windows of my car. No picking out new classes. Just…the other things. Amorphous time that is not marked by semesters or academic years. No “nice job”, A plus, due dates, cohorts, or flash cards. Just all the other things that were there all along. More of those things. More time. Less stress.
Schools out! For now. Probably not forever.
Maybe I won’t shelve the dream of being a weird old lady who secretly has degrees in everything. It is hard to shelve the dream. The shelf is already full of books. Would you rather it be shelved with porcelain clowns?