Time for a brief autobiographical interlude.
I graduated high school a few months later than was scheduled, over a matter of two science credits. After high school, I took classes off and on for a few quarters at my local community college, drifting aimlessly, not knowing where I was going. I was simultaneously making a half-hearted effort at job-searching, but wasn’t finding anything. When people would ask what I was doing with myself, work, school, etc, I would half-jokingly say I was “growing”. After some parental pressure to make up my mind and either go to school full-time or get a job, I opted for the latter.
That brings us to November of 1999, when I got my first job, working as a quality engineer for a software company. I realized at the time that it was a serious decision, and that changing my mind would not be an option. Not long after that, this realization was emphasized when I was forced to move to a higher-rent apartment in a different part of the Bay Area. My contribution to the rent, which previously made life easier, was now a necessary part of the budget, without which my father and I would not be able to keep the apartment in which we now live. This brings us to the present. My course is set; I am locked into the decision I made.
I do not regret it.
Don’t get me wrong, I often think about college, about what experiences I may be missing out on, about how much fuller and richer my knowledge of the world could be with a college education. But I also know that I could not have been successful at college if I had gone immediately after high school. It would have had its benefits, but I think that the true value of it would have been lost on me. There were things that I needed to learn which cannot be taught in a classroom.
Now I want to go back a few steps. It’s time to take a look at my experiences in high school.
My freshman and sophomore years of high school were a very unhappy time for me. Aside from my dismal lack of common ground with my peers, I was floundering academically, as I had been since early in junior high. I felt trapped and manipulated, forced to learn against my will when I’d have been just as happy to learn all kinds of things on my own if they would just leave me alone. I was inundated with assignments and notebooks and projects and all manner of teaching devices designed to cram my head full of whatever was deemed important by whoever it is that writes up school curricula. It all seemed so forced and contrived, and I wanted no part of it. I had my interests (computers, mainly) and was pursuing those on my own outside of school. All this effort that was being put into leading me by the nose to knowledge was merely strengthening my resolve to fight. The last quarter of my sophomore year was sheer misery as I convinced myself that high school was nothing more than an inescapable prison without any bars. I went from class to class doing just enough to get by, and sometimes not even that. I realized that I couldn’t do that anymore. Grades aside, I simply couldn’t stand that sort of imprisonment anymore. Thus, I sought out alternatives.
Among the alternatives was a program called Middle College. It was offered jointly through my school district and the local community college district. The idea was that for three hours a day, students would attend high-school-level classes on the college campus. In addition, they would be required to take (and pass) 7-9 units of college classes per quarter. These classes would still have to be selected to fulfill the high school graduation requirements, but they counted double for high school credit in addition to the college credit earned. This sounded good to me, as it gave me the opportunity to choose my own classes, and even with the restrictions, it had to be better than being herded through a series of high school classes.
So, in one of the most driven acts of my life, I gathered as much information as I could on Middle College, sold my parents on the idea, and applied.
Best move I ever made.
Middle College allowed me the freedom I needed to pursue my own interests. I signed up for a few classes at Foothill College and attended my English and History classes daily. I was taking college classes that taught me what I wanted to know, not classes that were prescribed for me by some faceless administrator as the cure for my ignorance. My grades quickly improved, and I pulled a 4.0 in my college classes that first quarter. Though I still did not perform as well as I could have in the Middle College core classes, my grades improved somewhat there, too. Indeed, even my ability to interact socially with people my own age was improving, though this benefit wouldn’t be fully realized until late in my senior year.
I didn’t realize it then, but Middle College had planted the seed of a lesson in my mind, which has only just recently sprouted in my mind, and without which, college would be a waste.
You see, even after Middle College, I still harbored some resentment for the system, for the rules. What kind of a system allows an intelligent person to fail to graduate over TWO credits out of a total of 220? It seemed ludicrous. I took a class to fill in the credits, graduated, and spent a few quarters fuming over it and wondering what to do next. That brings us back to the beginning of this rambling.
Fast-forward to the present. (Wish I had this kind of control over time in real life as well as in my writing.)
So, here I am, 20 years old, fairly intelligent, and working instead of going to college. As I said, I do not regret my choice. However, it’s not good enough to last me my whole life. You see, the lesson that Middle College taught me, which I couldn’t understand until I learned some lessons which cannot be taught in a classroom, was this:
My education isn’t about the system. It’s not about the credits or the diploma or the degrees or the teachers or books or grades.
It’s about ME. It’s about me doing what I want to do with my life, what I choose to do with my life.
It’s all about me.