Having gone through Singapore's education system in its 'elite' schools and wisened up in US colleges, I'm blind to many faults of such a system because, echo chamber. I'm reminded of privileges and exclusions each time I come across personal stories of academic difficulties and a long road to securing and receiving an education. I'm reminded of it again in Alison Stine's story published in Longreads in February 2019, titled 'Class Dismissed', and how academic achievements and meritocracy can be an oxymoron.
I don't know how children, teenagers and young adults behave in school now, or what they think of. I don't have children. I don't have many close friends who have children. I don’t interact with many children, and prefer to keep it this way. I only know that children today are way savvy than we were back then, not just because of greater knowledge gleaned and the aid of technology, but it's a whole new world with a different set of social rules now.
Is a college degree important? It depends on where you live, what your values are, and the sort of job that matters to you. Unfortunately, all these 'revelations' and decisions won't come to you in your twenties. Real life ultimately doesn't quite gel with what you thought you'd be when you grow up. Unless you're superbly focused.
I went to work after graduation, like everyone else. I didn't have to pay off student loans (no bank loans or scholarships or bonds) or in the Singapore context, pay off the parents' CPF monies used for my education. I was free to travel, explore freelance work and such instead of staying put in an office. When I finally hauled ass back to Singapore and dipped toes into an office life, I didn't like it very much. I'm obviously not interested in climbing the corporate ladder. Graduate programs are useful; but not for me. I didn't see the need to do a PhD for my line of work.
Not coming from the world of privilege made navigating the real world after college challenging. I didn’t have student loans, surviving on a combination of scholarships, work study, summer jobs, and what my parents had saved, but many of my college friends weren’t as lucky. Our wealthiest classmates didn’t have this burden of repayment; they weren’t starting out already buried by debt.
On a teaching assistantship, I went to graduate school: another academic institution wound by wealth. I was surprised that many of my classmates said they were there just to learn; I was there hoping to ultimately land a good job with my degree. I had to have a job to live: learning was an afterthought.
My boyfriend at the time never finished the program, due to financial constraints. My longtime partner later in life had had the same experience: dropping out of a PhD program because his car broke down and he couldn’t get to class. He was one of the only ones among his graduate school class with a day job.
Do we hang out with people who share similar educational backgrounds? I dunno. It might an unconscious gravitation because, conversation topics, humor, types of films watched and books read, et cetera. Don't we hang out with people who share similar interests, and who aren't assholes? I certainly don't care if my friends have a college degree. I care that we're on these same thought wavelengths and values when it comes to the fundamentals in life.
The author doesn't seem have turned out too bad. But I daren't presume simply from this article. I am glad that the author respected her scholarship and had a healthy fear of losing it. That probably kept her safe from the craziness of frat partying, young love, alcohol and drugs. These are the things that could derail anyone from the academic track, or kick one into the gutters of life.
Certainly, cheap beer flowed like a constant, sticky river. Boys lined bathtubs with garbage bags filled with “jungle juice” which was every bottle of alcohol in the dorm poured together, with a lot of malt liquor thrown in; it was always red. But many of my classmates had had the access and allowance to drink for years before I could. They were familiar with alcohol and used it to their advantage; they continued to lavish cash on partying expensive and hard.
And rarely faced consequences.
Because I feared getting in trouble, because I had no safety net and was terrified of losing my scholarships, I didn’t drink much. This further outcast me. I couldn’t even party like the others, bonding at frat parties. Not having had high school or family experiences with drinking also made me vulnerable. I tried to keep my drink with me at all times to stay safe, but I certainly couldn’t hold my liquor.
It wasn’t experience that kept me from getting hurt those years, it was dumb luck and my own terror.