Pretender

I call this blog “Old Fart” because, well – relative to 34,700 of the other 35,000 students on campus – I am one. I am forty-six glorious years old, with all the necessary rings in my trunk to prove it and, for now at least, I’m still going strong.

Yesterday, though, I acquainted myself with true royalty. 76 year old Avram, who is in the same political science course as I. He tells me that he is the true “old fart” – and I believe him: I defer, prostrate, to his seniority. He says he has taken several courses over the past few years; he takes one course at a time (“God, I don’t have your kind of energy!” he says), and he takes them because he enjoys learning. As he put it, “Stop learning, start dying.” Nice.

“Do you ever feel out of place amongst all these teenagers?” I asked.

“What are they going to do,” he replied. “bully me? I got past all that crap back in the fifth grade.”

I suggested coffee some time, and we’re going to make that happen.

I do know, of course, and have since the beginning that I’m not the only “mature” student here (I do like that word). I also know that I’m not the oldest – I knew that – intuitively – before I even met Avram. I wonder, though, if I’m not perhaps the only one doing a full course load in order to change careers… Hmmm. Bears investigation. Perhaps I’m a rare gem…

I heard on the news the other night that more and more people are going back to school to upgrade their qualifications – that it’s becoming an absolute imperative in the modern world and in the current economic climate. I believe this. I have no source for this, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a whole bunch of other very intelligent and incredibly good-looking baby boomers weren’t figuring out that this is their last chance to do what they actually want to do with their lives, and that education is a large part of that; of capitalizing on their work experience and putting their courage to work for new opportunities.

Either that, or the machine has set another trap and we’re all just walking into it. I mean, have you noticed that a B.A. today is what a high school diploma used to be, and that a masters used to be a bachelors? God, if you drop out of high school these days you might as well have flunked kindergarten! Everyone’s looking for letters after their name, and he who dies with the most letters wins! I even saw this carried to an illogical extreme once in my old life as an adjuster, when a client called herself (and had it put on her business cards) Jane Doe [name invented], SAHM. I asked of course about the SAHM, and was told it stood for Stay-at-home-mom. “Only slightly pretentious”, I remember thinking.

It’s also disconcerting to me that some are advocating that university education be guaranteed for everyone and paid for by the public purse. I have to say I am against this. I can’t imagine any way to devalue the university experience more quickly or completely than to invite those who don’t qualify, and to give it away for free. Part of the learning inherent in a degree comes from books and lectures, part of it comes from sacrifice. Take either part away and all you’ve got is a more advanced high school and an even greater sense of entitlement. A degree must be earned. It must never be guaranteed or the standard will only keep declining.

J

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