Do we all need a college degree?

I spent last Thursday and Friday helping run the MOKA BUG conference at our university, and it was in this context that my struggle with academia resurfaced. The subject of job qualifications, pay rates, and years needed to complete a degree all came up, and I mentioned that I was sorely tempted to just not bother anymore. One of my student workers was incredulous.

“Do you not have any ambition?” she asked. “Is this really all you want to do with your life? You don’t want to do anything more?”

The questions were painful, despite their being asked out of ignorance. I’d rather just brush them off–she doesn’t know anything about me or my life, so her critiques aren’t particularly weighty–but they resonate with questions I ask myself. The problem is, my education is no longer a vehicle to get me where I want to go.

Yes, of course I want to be doing other, better, higher things. I think my current job is important, and though I’m not overly fond of where I’m at professionally, I find fulfillment in the work I am doing. It is good work that benefits people, and my efforts are yielding positive results.

Her assumption, however, frustrated me as it does when voice by anyone. This idea that a college degree is greater, more important, and better than any alternative is overly constricting to me. And it’s not just that I know people who are working jobs that don’t require degrees and are happy (such as friends who are construction workers), but it’s that I know people who are very intelligent and who do mentally challenging work, and who enjoy their lives, where their work is not dependent upon a degree.

I feel like our society has hyper-inflated the value of a degree, and we have done this largely through marketing. University was once a place to go and learn to think, to be exposed to a wider range of ideas, and to critically study subjects with resources (such as professors) that were unavailable elsewhere. Too often now, University is viewed as a trade school. It is an investment to assist one in reaching a higher income bracket. It is no longer a place one goes to learn, but a place one goes to get the job one wants.

“I want to do X, so I need degree Y. Therefore, I will get degree Y.” This is in comparison to, “I want to learn about X, so I shall go to University to learn X.”

This last weekend I found myself really wanting to study apocryphal books from Judeo-Christian history. If I were to pursue this, I would need to finish up my bachelors in Religious Studies, learn Ethiopian, Greek, German, probably French and Spanish, and brush up on my Hebrew. I would also need to move out of state to study elsewhere, incur probably $60,000+ in debt, and not have any way to pay that back. I couldn’t pay it back because I’m not doing this to get job X. I want to learn it just to learn. On a certain level, I understand that universities have bills and salaries to pay so we need to pay tuition, but at the same time I feel like we’re paying a certain amount so we can get a higher paying job. If a job isn’t your goal–say, if you won’t be studying something to leads to a high paying job, but just because you want to learn–then you’ll sink under a pile of debt.

I can study this on my own, to some extent, but I am limited by my day job as well as the mostly meaningless classes (in which I am not interested) to get my own piece of paper.

Yes, I do want to do more. And as I sat reading and thinking at the end of last week, I thought, “Just as soon as I finish my degree, I can start doing some things…”

No.

I’m going to start doing them now.

I do have ambitions, things I want to do, and things I want to learn. A degree will not give me those things. Taking more classes will not give me those things. What does a degree do? It opens doors, helps us get better jobs. But what if what I want to do doesn’t involve submitting a resume, attending an interview, and being awarded a job? What if what I want to do is to actually do something?

Those things aren’t going to magically happen as I attend class and get a piece of paper. They’re not going to magically begin happening after I graduate. They will only happen if I start acting, start doing, and the only thing holding me back is me. Not having my degree doesn’t keep me from doing what I want. Making excuses and procrastinating on my dreams is holding me back.

I’m not going to start studying apocryphal texts hardcore, though I’m going to keep reading and discussing and learning. I am finding a cause I want to promote, and I’m going to start promoting it. I’m going to start doing things. We don’t need a degree to have ambitions, to live productive lives, or to change the world. What we need is a will and a drive to act.

The First Time I Read Isaiah

I met a Mormon girl at History Bowl my senior year of high school. There were three Mormons in my school, but what made this particular girl fascinating was that she actually knew something about her religion. I had always been interested in studying other religions so I’d read a fair amount about Mormonism, and the ones I knew at school were largely clueless. They spent time with their families, went to church, and did some of the social stuff, but they knew surprisingly little about their religion or its history. The girl at History Bowl was educated.

What’s more, she was also cute, and I was determined to talk with her about her faith because I found that intelligence so exciting. I asked her out for coffee, and when she said she didn’t drink it, I quickly changed my suggestion to tea or hot cocoa. We ended up making plans to go ice skating, and when I went to pick her up at her parent’s house, her dad shanghaied me and we ended up talking about religion for several hours (and eating dinner) before we could get out the door.

One of the things we discussed was the book of Isaiah, which they (as a family) had been studying for quite some time. The father of the family had a huge book that attempted to explain Isaiah, and he said it was the one book in the Bible with which he really struggled. It just didn’t make any sense to him and was really difficult to read.

I was perplexed by this. Having just read the entire Bible for the first time, I blew through Isaiah without any problems. The Holy Spirit had acted as my interpreter and educator and I hadn’t stumbled for meaning. I’ll admit a few things here: I was young, foolhardy, and prideful; I may very well have been wrong and subsequently only thought I was understanding Isaiah; my Zondervan Study Bible was a big help in this endeavor. However, my circumstances led me to believe that my teaching was from God and my understanding of the Bible was solid.

During my senior year of high school, God took me in a powerful way and compelled me to read the Bible. I sat down in our living room one night and started in Genesis, shaken and enthralled. There was nothing else I could do, nothing to which I could turn my attention. When I tried to read for class, I would be distracted after a few sentences or a paragraph and have to pick up the Bible again. I’d read for six hours at a time, sleep, and then wake up and read more. I was inspired.

In six weeks I had read the text. Isaiah had seemed no more a challenge than any of the rest of it.

Since that time, the Holy Spirit has acted as my interpreter less. For the first couple of years after I became Christian, God held my hand and led me through whatever I faced. He taught, comforted, and 100% took care of me. Around my junior year of college, though, he let go. It was time for me to stand on my own, to make my own way in the world, and to put what I had learned towards making my own decisions without influence. God wasn’t going to tell me what to do anymore–he wanted me to decide for myself based on his teachings.

I don’t expect this reading of Isaiah to be as easy as when I was in high school. However, I’ve also learned a lot since then (my degree in religious studies, only six credit hours from completion, hasn’t been an entire waste), and my in-laws just bought me a new study Bible for my birthday, so I’m feeling pretty good.

I’m not going to try and explain all of Isaiah, nor am I going to write about every verse or even every chapter. I’m just going to read and, when something jumps out at me that I want to write about, I’ll say something.

I’m still not sure where to fit the podcast into all this. Doing a dedicated podcast without writing something for those who prefer to read feels odd to me. I think what I might do, vis-a-vis podcast, is take notes throughout my reading and then once a week do a sort of review. “Here’s what the last week of my study has been like.” I’ll write about specifics and podcast about the general overview. Sound good?

Not sure it does to me, but it sounds feasible. We’ll see if it happens.

Skewed Study Shows Gamers are Fat, Depressed, Possibly Homicidal

A friend of mine shared this through Google Reader and the headline (Video gamers ‘older than thought’) (( I originally read this title as something akin to “Video Gamers Older Than Time and Space.” )) caught my attention. The first three “paragraphs” ((As I copy and paste these “paragraphs,” I realize are really just sentences.)) just frustrated me.

The average age of an adult video game player is 35 – higher than previously thought, a US study suggests.

My goodness! 35 years old and obese, that is quite a concerning figure. I mean, I don’t mind if they’re older–I think it’s good that older people are gaming, as it has been shown to improve and help maintain brain function and hand-eye coordination. I’ve also read anecdotes of grandparents gaming with their grandkids, so that’s cool.

A team from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also found gamers were less healthy, fatter, and more depressed than non-gamers.

Obesity is certainly a problem though, and for this to be nationwide is alarming.

OK, not terribly alarming, because the entire friggin’ USA is probably “overweight,” at least on average. But whatever, let’s focus on gamers.

Researchers from the government agency analysed data from 500 adults aged 19 to 90 in the Seattle-Tacoma area of Washington state.

Wait… erm, I thought this was to show the average of the United States of America? Instead we’ve got 500 people from Seattle, ((That’s 0.086% of the population of Seattle, by the way, and ((1.64441378 × 10-6)*100)% of the population of the USA.)) a city known for being cloudy and rainy all the freaking time.

Maybe they’re indoors playing games because the weather sucks and they all suffer from SAD. (( Seasonal Anxiety Disorder, which I’m still not convinced is a real disorder.)) Maybe it’s just a poor study.

It’s been said before, but I’ll go ahead and reiterate: Correlation != Causation. This study doesn’t really prove anything. It’s not even worth the HTML it’s printed on.

Online Bible Study

With FnC drawing to an end, I’ve had a number of ideas about starting some sort of weekly event, like a Bible study and/or worship session at our house. Unfortunately, when I look at what my schedule will be like next school year as I finally wrap up my undergraduate degree and bulldoze my way through 500-levels, I can’t help but recognize that I simply won’t have the time to commit to a scheduled weekly session. Instead, I thought I would return to the format that worked so well for me several years ago and write regularly about the Bible and theological topics.

Every week from now into the foreseeable future, I will be publishing an Online Bible Study. I don’t know what the topic or set of topics will be, but I’m leaning towards starting with 1 John and working my way through that book. I want to really take my time and dwell on the text, digging into each verse and spending a lot of time with the word of God, and my weekly publication will be part analysis, part developing thoughts, and part study aid.

I know that it’ll be helpful for me and I hope that it will be helpful to you all as well, and I would be thrilled if you would join in the discussion by commenting on each study. Moreover, I’m going to try to record a podcast for the study after I finish my research and writing for those who prefer to listen on their way to work or, as I do, while exercising. If the podcast ends up being too time consuming, however, I fully reserve the right to drop it from my schedule 😛

Maybe once my schedule lightens up, I’ll be able to join a small group or something of the like, but until then, I’m excited about working on this Online Bible Study. Expect to see those published on Wednesday afternoons, with the podcast around the same time. My first podcast had a bit of a delay with iTunes, so I’m not sure if there will be lag time with that publication… I guess we’ll just have to see.

I’ll edit this post later with links to the OBS series and the podcast, so be sure to check back. Or, better yet, go ahead and subscribe to the RSS feed now 😉

What do you know about…

I want to spend a lot of time this summer reading about the Middle Ages and Nixon. There are so many assumptions made on these topics, so many stereotypes and wild rumours around… I want to know the truth. I want to read the real history of what the Church was like throughout the Dark Ages. Chesterton is beatifically optimistic while my atheist friends will blame the Church for all the evils in the world, with that 1000+ years as evidence that religion is the core failure of humanity. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in-between.

And Nixon… I think he’s gotten a bad rap. People in my generation don’t know much about him, except for a few sound bytes and some images. I’ve heard good and bad, but not the full story. Did you know that he idolized Kennedy? And that Kennedy pretty much brushed him off? Or maybe that, too, is just a rumour… I want to know for sure.

What’s going on in our world? What has happened here? And more to the point, when we ask these questions, why do we so often fail to find out the real answers?