Back to School: Is College Worth it?

August 24, 2012 • Culture Dept.

I’m of that generation for whom the term “Back to School” immediately brings Rodney Dangerfield’s ’80s college comedy to mind. I was a freshman the year the film came to the local multiplex and I was a sophomore by the time I left high school to pursue a career as a writer.

This may seem like a counter-intuitive career path, but then so was seeing my hero, Kurt Vonnegut, cameo in a Rodney Dangerfield movie. The world, I came to understand, is a patently absurd place.

Sure, using college, or worse, college-themed movies, as a means of understanding the world is a reductio ad absurdum argument. But what else can I do with the years I spent at State studying writing, you know, besides drop some Latin and bitch a bit?

If I were dean of the world, I’d require that all creative writing curricula include a required course in making lattes. At least then, these poor kids stand a chance of being employed.

Ditto film students. Everything I learned about my profession I learned by doing it on the job and I got the job by creatively writing my resumé.

Don’t get me wrong, college is still valuable – particularly to the adult beverage industry. If parents knew the extent to which they were subsidizing four years of liver damage, they would probably just install a kegerator in their kid’s room.

At least then, they could pretend they’re beer-soden progeny were studying fluid dynamics.

I live about the length of an unscrolled honorary doctorate from a major California university (until they grant me one, I’m not doing any free advertising). I also live close to a major grocery store chain. On the occasions when my wife has dispatched me on a late night run for a bomber of Boont, I’ve not only had to wrestle for the spoils with some walking pituitary disorder in a jersey, I’ve also had to wait in lines longer than those seen at a commencement ceremonies. It’s like looking at the future line up of DUIs and drinking deaths with a few movers and shakers in between. And by movers and shakers, I mean those who are experiencing withdrawals.

Perhaps my characterization of these kids is too dark. Indeed, most sober up by the time they get their graduate degrees. And if they don’t, they can always teach Creative Writing.

I used to sing a bluesy tune about the vicissitudes of academic life, or more specifically, the lack of it:

Went to Princeton for an instant, but we disagreed,
Admissions and Records don’t admit recording me.
Went to Yale to no avail, said I never went,
What am I gonna tell the Man ‘bout the tuition that I spent?

I’m a victim of pomp and circumstance,
Student loans done paid my rent.
I’m a lifer, without a degree,
The School of Hard Knocks won’t graduate me.

And onward it went, through the Ivy League. I knew it was over by the time I was riffing on San Francisco State University, my alma mater – or as we used to say, my “didn’t mater.”

My jaundiced view of higher education notwithstanding, a lot of my colleagues have taken professional refuge in the hallowed halls of the academy. As well they should. Writing “indoors” is vastly preferable to divining wifi signals at cafes and libraries like some hobo with a laptop and a deadline – I hear. The closest I’ll get to hackademia and going back to school is if they make a low-rent remake of the Dangerfield flick and the phone rings, you know, for a cameo. Poo-tee-weet?

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