Well, following upon da Blogfadda’s tireless coverage of the various implications of the currently about-to-implode higher education bubble, I suppose that I might weigh in on the various merits/demerits of the so-called bubble, and the efficacy of even bothering to attend an institution of so-called higher education, with respect to my current career as a producer of readable genre fiction – which is not as highly-paid as the casual reader is likely to expect, but still . . . that career is underwritten by a pension earned for military service. It’s not the generous pension that I might have earned as a public servant in California as a prison guard or lifeguard, or municipal employee in certain urban sinks . . . but it suffices to pay the mortgage and a little over, since I had the good sense to retire and buy a residence in Texas, fifteen years ago. So, anyway – college education, value of, personal development . . . et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.Personally, I felt that I got great value out of my college education, and my parents – being the first in their families to achieve degrees – were all about the four of us being college attendees also. Dad went all the way to a Masters and almost a PhD, courtesy of his own industry and the GI Bill. (He was pretty pissed about missing being awarded the PhD, I tell ya – he took out his frustrations building an ironwork chandelier, exactingly designed to hold the thick beeswax candles that my Great-aunt Nan scored though being a stalwart member of the altar guild at some Episcopal establishment that rewarded her with those.) Well, anyway, the ‘rents were pretty well hipped on the values of higher education, and three of the four of us kids eventually did so – but in the meantime, at what expense? And for what payback? It was drilled into us; our college education would be self-paid, although Mom was an uber-mom, in comparison to the mothers of our peers, growing up where we did, and at the time that we did. Which was a working-class, blue-collar striving suburb; I don’t think Mom and Dad ever entertained fantasies of red-brick Ivies for us, or even their own alma mater, Occidental College. Which was just as well – saved wear and tear on the emotions, ambitions and pocketbook. Community college for lower division, state Uni for upper, and if you can figure out how to do that and not live at home – good for you, kid!
This meant for me that I lived at home for all four years of college. I attended a local community college for two of those years (Glendale Community College, for those who give a rodent’s patoot about these things) – carefully selecting every course taken for it’s transferability to a state university – and then went to California State University Northridge for upper division. I graduated from that august establishment with a bachelor in English, discovering only upon Graduation Day that all the good-looking and personable guys were in the Engineering division. As I had gone to college to procure a B. of A. and not my Mrs.; this discovery was only a matter of academic and aesthetic interest to myself and the girl in line next to me, standing in our cheap polyester robes rented from whatever concession that held the rights for that graduation year. I went on and enlisted in the Air Force – which had been my intention for much of the time that I had spent marooned in academia. I did not do ROTC, by the way – that was not offered at Cal State Northridge. All they had was a program at another Cal State school that I couldn’t get to easily as a commuter student.
So – four years at various community and state institutions of higher learning, paying for my textbooks, tuition and the gas to get to classes: how did I pay for all of this? I made dolls. I made twelfth-scale dolls, and sometimes client-commissioned dolls and doll-clothes, and sold them on consignment or direct sales through a miniature shop in a nearby town. I made $25 a week, week in and week out – that’s about five dolls, with hand-sewn clothes, and composition heads, hands and feet of soda-cornstarch clay, and bodies made of cloth-wrapped wire, so that they were easily pose-able. I didn’t then or ever, claim to be the best 12th-scale doll artist in the world, but I was the only one in that particular field at that particular time, working through that particular commercial outlet. And it did add up, not having any big expenses, other than tuition, textbooks and gas. Or at least it didn’t in the early 1970s. So I paid for all of my college education, and I came out with about $1,500 left over. I went to England on it, and spent the whole summer staying in Youth Hostels and traveling on Brit-Rail and various public transportations.
Educated, with a relatively useless degree in English Lit? Such were the circumstances that I felt then and ever since – that I was perfectly well educated, from this experience and from a mad impulse to read everything I could get my hands on, with regard to subjects which attracted my butterfly-impulsive interest. In the early 1970s in California, community colleges and state schools still offered an adequate and intellectually challenging education, even in the softer degree programs like – umm, English. A degree in it was a good starting point for quite a lot of interesting careers, even though Cal State Northridge didn’t and doesn’t have any cachet at all in the grand educational scheme of things. But I didn’t bankrupt myself retroactively – or my family in procuring a degree from it.
And as a family, we also spared ourselves that desperate pursuit of red-brick-ivy-covered status-education competition. Really, Mom and Dad were totally realistic about all that, and the prospects that we would all have. For myself, I didn’t want to go on and get a higher degree; I wanted to be a writer, and I sensed even then – that the best and most efficient way to do that was to go ahead and have a life, an interesting life, full of interesting and varied people. I’ve been knocking around the world ever since, among all sorts of people. Some of them don’t have anything beyond high school, and some of them do – and from places that are much higher thought of than Cal State Northridge. Weird thing? I’ve never felt the least bit at a disadvantage, intellectually. I’ve never been able to decide if it was the degree itself – which guaranteed to the observer that I was basically literate-and-a-bit for the standards of the time – or just the experience of life in the military which would account for that confidence. Just one of those things, I expect – being realistic about the education I got from one or the other – and not being in debt from the experience. I’m in debt for certain things – but not for my higher education.