The other day my son tried a new tack to get out of going to school. He said he didn’t like his school because it was too hard. He said “normal” schools were easier. And he wanted to go to a normal school.
I told him I had gone to the same school when I was his age and that I didn’t recall its being that difficult, especially when I worked at it. He conceded that I had gone to the same “hard” school that he does and pointed out that I had also gone to college — but look where I was working now.
And this coming from a 10-year-old.
I knew he was just trying to be clever and get out of going to class that day, but it still stung. I graduated from college with honors, and I work in construction. But way leads on to way, and things don’t always appear what they seem.
At age 27, I had a lucrative white-collar job with a percentage of the overall profits. I got paid a lot for doing a little and certainly nothing of any consequence. I despised the work and had no respect for the corporate entity that employed me. Whether virtue or defect, something in me insisted that there was more to life than corporate drudgery and that no matter how much they paid me, the job would still be pointless and existentially demeaning.
I took a leave of absence and backpacked through Europe. I returned a few months later with shoulder-length dreadlocks and a better outlook. I felt 10 years younger and resolved then not to reduce myself to any form of white-collar, corporate degradation ever again.
How could I explain that to my son? I had no regrets, but he was too young to understand.
When I was in college, I had as much fun as the next student, but I also got an education. I read the works of great thinkers, and I examined the paths and principles of some of humanity’s most important heroes and visionaries. Most of what I learned indicated that we had gone astray.
I don’t want to shock Middle America, but the best application of a college education is not to make piles of money. It’s to be educated.
There are lots of folks going to college these days, but few are getting an education. In fact, if you duck off into curricula like those offered in business departments, you may not even be exposed to a real education. You can just learn how to count money and lay people off.
A good education tells you that dollar signs are not the most important thing in the world. A good education tells you that the corporatization of America is making a mockery of our defining ideals. A good education tells you that no CEO, movie star, or professional athlete is important enough to be making a thousand times more than whoever’s working the drive-through window at McDonald’s — because no one is that special.
Now, at 43, I admit I didn’t win all the battles I took on, and every year I find less and less energy to resist what I know in every cell of my being is an undesirable existence. But I can say I tried.
The choices I made may not make sense to my son now, but maybe when he’s 27 — or 43 — he’ll understand. He’ll make different choices, and that’s fine. In the end, you can’t tell anyone how to live, not even your own son. All you can do is make a statement with your existence. My life may not be impressive to him right now, but he doesn’t want for much, and it’s easier for me to look myself in the mirror than it would have been if I had remained a corporate cog.
When I was young, people used to say, “There’s the way things are and there’s the way things should be.” Someday, like me, my son will have to decide whether it’s better to spend his life struggling for the way things should be or settling for how they are.
Settling might net you lots of dollar signs. But struggling may lead to truer wealth.
E.R. Bills is a Fort Worth area writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications.