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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Educations vs. certificates

I spent some time yesterday reading through a leading university's continuing and professional studies course catalogue (how sexy is my life, huh?), which was almost as hilariously disturbing as getting drunk and going on an on-line dating site, to read the profiles. (Almost.) I am a huge believer, in fact I'm an obsessive believer in the value of education throughout one's life. My ginormous law degree doesn't hang on the wall above my desk just for the snob value, or to intimidate the boys I date (though really: is that so wrong?)...but because the skills and the way of thinking I learned at Indiana University-Bloomington, continue to help me in so many other ways.
In light of all that, what I found so hilarious about the adult ed courses few were educational, in the old-fashioned sense of the word. You could get a certificate in coaching, or learn time-management for life, or a receive a certificate in creative writing...or you could explain to me how said certificate would help you impress the editorial staff of New Yorker magazine. Writers need to write, yes? And read, of course, but you become a writer by writing and re-writing and writing, and whining and procrastinating and being jealous of your friends and writing some more. Where exactly does a certificate come into this?
Education should be about learning; it should be about giving you the skills and resources to understand yourself and the world around you. I majored in history in college. I should be running my own small nation, indeed, but instead, I've used the lessons I learned--research, writing, cognitive thinking, to name a few--in all my jobs. (FYI: the cognitive thinking was much less helpful in TV news, wherein one is forced to regularly interact with people who consider reading He's Just Not That Into You as a major accomplishment.)
I have a law degree. I don't--thank god--work as an attorney...but I use the skills and ideas I (somehow) absorbed daily. Many people, unfortunately, have this idea that the point of education is to use your new-found knowledge in one way, and one way only: so if you have a law degree, and you're not practicing...well, then you failed. (Alas.)
These, of course, are the same people who believe that a certificate in life coaching or creative writing will, ipso facto, lead them to a thriving practice or writing the Great American Novel. Listen, if that's how you feel: knock yourself out. But if that's all education is to you: there's some websites, where you can buy a Ph.D, fer crissake: go big or go home, baby!
I'd argue that they are missing the point of education: education is not about a certificate or a degree. It's not about a piece of paper or some fancy letters after your name. It's about opening your mind to everything that's inside of you. And if that makes you want to vomit, I apologize...but I stand by it.
So don't get a certificate: get an education...! (Again: cheesy, but true.)

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