Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders
Degrees of separation
Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013
When I was applying to colleges, none of my potentially first−generation college−bound friends had the nerve to entertain the thought of a gap year. I never thought critically about the prospect of volunteering on a political campaign or working full−time at an internship before delving into the overpriced pressure cooker that is higher education. “College is not an option; you will go to college,” my grandmother would say at the outset of any conversation we had about higher education.
A lifetime of being looked over and professionally punished for not having completed a college program had taught her that, while academic pursuits and interests were just dandy, college degrees breed opportunity, for better or for worse.
In my high school, the graduating seniors wrote their university acceptances on paper stars outside the college counselor’s office. I watched for weeks as stars were decked out with bubble letters of household name institutions and filled up like laundry lists of acceptances. I asked a student why he had not written anything down (as if he had to explain his decision−making), he said, “College isn’t for me.” I realized that I, like most of our peers, had assumed that the college would bring with it the promises of its magical symbolism. We had not taken into consideration the fact that so many of us truly are not “cut out” for endless lectures, rote memorization or academia.
But what about our peers, the foot soldiers who maintain that college isn’t the right option, and the strength it takes to actively reject the social flogging that comes along with actively deciding against college?
A great friend of mine inspired this column about the foot soldiers who opt out of college in pursuit of work, stability, discovery, duty or an unknown number of other quests and decisions and how they are judged without any regard to the internal work required to make such a decision. It is as monumental a choice to choose, at 18, an institution where you will live, study and be molded as it is to choose to be shaped in the “real world.”
Not until relatively recently in Western educational history did lawyers, doctors, journalists and architects pursue higher education to learn their trade instead of the usual route of apprenticeship. An added emphasis on “formal” education instead of vocational skill makes it easy to judge the individuals who choose not to go to college because they know that it’s not the only option.
The concept of a college education is extremely complex, way too intense for 600 words, and every day, it’s being further complicated, glorified and debunked by those inside and outside of the “ivory towers.” College degrees try to connote that a person has chosen one life path over another, aligned herself with another set of goals and expectations over another, and the parallel is to be drawn stiffly between those with degrees and those without who instead attend the school of life.
We are going to call these degrees of separation. Let us consider the self−knowledge (or −awareness, or a lack thereof) that it takes to do that and the people who are not in college because it was not for them, because it was not made for them. These spaces weren’t made with everyone in mind — we can be honest about that. From what is taught to which programs are funded and underfunded to how dissent is “managed,” it is clear. So when someone can break from that and know it’s not for them, that is why they are they judged, put down as “go−nowhere” people. They are seen this way because they refused to enter into situations that could do more harm than good, because they don’t subject themselves to these environments.