I needed a foreign language credit for my undergraduate, so I decided to take Russian, since I had grown up speaking it. So I took a Russian assessment test. It was harder than I expected, but I was still pretty surprised when told that I would have to start from scratch with Russian 101. When I challenged the head of the Russian language department, he asked me a series of grammar questions, which only confirmed the test results. So I took the few semesters of Russian needed for my degree. I got easy A’s – not because I was fluent in Russian, but because I had been trained by 13 years of schooling to memorize grammar rules for tests. My friend Tim took them with me, and I think he would not dispute that he learned absolutely nothing while getting the same grades.
16 years later, and 26 years after I had last spoken Russian on a daily basis, my uncles, who only speak Russian and Hebrew, came to visit. Within a few hours of speaking (and drinking) with them, we were talking and joking together. I had been reading at a college level when I left the USSR, and all I needed to jog my memory was a little language immersion. It turns out I’m not a total beginner. The head of the Russian language department, who had learned the language in a classroom, and probably had never lived in Russia outside of supervised university trips had no interest or ability to spend a few hours with me, and do more good than three semesters of classes. Not everyone can re-learn a language with a few hours of immersion, but everyone has different needs and learns in different ways, and our schooling system is designed for mass instruction without any regard for individual needs.
A month ago, I changed my job from technology to marketing. A graduate degree and 14 years of experience in tech, and I suddenly decided to do something different. Do you think I could have done that if I defined myself by my university degree? I haven’t read a book on marketing (not proud of that btw, just saying), much less taken a class on it, but was I worried? No – because I know how to Google, I know how to ask for help, and I know how to Get Shit Done. And I’m getting it done, my useless economics, political-science and MIS degrees be damned.
Meanwhile, do you know how many unemployed/underemployed marketing/communications graduates there are? I’m hiring one as an intern next week – who wised up to his useless degree and got Praxis (God bless ‘em) to show him to do marketing – starting with marketing himself.
Who knows what I’ll be doing a few years from now. I’ve thought about writing a few books, maybe doing travel photography for a while, or even a starting a hedge fund. If I thought that I needed four years of school for every job, I would still be an unemployed economics graduate.