College Bound

As promised in an earlier post, I want to talk about college — and if any of my Loyal Readers have kids (or even grandkids) who are thinking of attending college, you may want to pass this on to them.  Here’s my opening statement:

Most people have absolutely no business going to college.

I know that a college degree is now the same as a high-school diploma was, forty years ago; as the late Joseph Sobran once put it, we’ve gone from teaching Greek and Latin in high school to teaching remedial English in college. That doesn’t matter; here’s where we are now, and that’s all there is to it. The question is: what next? How to make the best of a bad thing? Here are a few observations, based on my being in college in two separate time periods, the early 1970s and most recently the late 2010s. (I was a slacker in the first, and a serious student in the second.)

Most kids are wasting their time in college. Unless they or their parents are independently wealthy, a class in any of the Humanities has no benefit other than educational. (Remember: I have a B.A. summa in History, which qualifies me to do exactly… squat.) As I looked around at the kids in my classes recently, all I could see was a bunch of slackers, stupid people, party animals and future schoolteachers. The guys were even worse. Few of them belonged in college. (No doubt this is not the case in most STEM classes, which is an even better reason not to get a B.A.)

All that said, let’s assume that everything I’ve written so far doesn’t apply to you, and you’re hell-bent on going to college. It’s going to cost a mint — you, your parents or grandparents are going to spend about $50,000 per annum or more — so if you’re going to go, get it done as quickly as possible. I took three years to get my B.A., which means that just about anyone can. So here we go:

Kim’s Rules And Guidelines For College Success

1. Treat college for what it is: it’s a JOB, a job to get a degree or certification. This means going to every scheduled class, lab or tutorial, taking notes, doing the pre-work and homework, and handing in assignments on time (or early). Your job is to ingest and retain educational content, not piss around in frat parties and pep rallies. Just like a job, you should spend at minimum 12 hours per day, whether in class or studying (for each hour of classroom time, add three hours for studying). Over and beyond your regular studying time, you should spend at least 18 hours prepping for a test, no matter how well you think you know the subject. This, by the way, is the kind of daily time that company managers devote to their job, which is why they get the big bucks and why the clockwatchers get stuck with minimum wage / basic salary scale. Work at least six hours per day on weekends if you have to; they’re not holy days, but class-free days in which you can prepare for the following week’s classes and tests. (And if Saturdays or Sundays are holy days for you, you’ll have to make up the missed time during the week.) I know this sounds like a lot of work — but it has a double benefit: you’ll succeed in college, and the work ethic will transfer to your future jobs and make you stick out from the slackers and deadbeats who are your colleagues.

2. Take copious notes. If and only if you can type at 90/90 (w.p.m. / % accuracy), then by all means ask the prof if you can use your laptop to take notes; otherwise write them — and then rewrite or type them up immediately after class while the memory is still fresh and you can fill in any gaps. My experience is that where profs are not allowing laptops in class, it’s because too many idiots are abusing the thing (Facebook, gaming etc) and worse, distracting the other students.

3. Turn off your damn phone in class. This is becoming such a problem that one prof has been known to take a half-filled bucket of water to the classroom, and put it on his desk with a warning sign: “Final destination for ringing phones.” His choice for the students: drop the phone in the water themselves, or leave and be suspended for a week’s classes. One student had to leave an exam — earning him an F — because his phone rang and he refused to dunk his iPhone. He appealed to the college administration, and lost.

4. Always show up early for class, especially on Day 1. The first class is the most important day of the semester, because that’s where you learn about the prof and how he teaches. Many profs are now not allowing latecomers into the first class at all, because of how important it is for the others who arrived on time. For all other classes: be ready to go when the prof is ready, which means arriving at least 5 minutes early and taking your seat.

5. Don’t sit in the back row. Usually, that’s where the screwups choose to sit, and the profs know it. Also, it’s easier to get distracted by other students when you’re in the back. If you inexplicably fear sitting in the front row (are we still in first grade?), then sit in the second row. Finally, don’t sit next to your BFF (this is especially true for women). Once again, we are not in first grade; we are there to study and learn like adults. On a related note: never take food or drink into the classroom. If you can relate a lecture to an important business meeting, then ask yourself this question: would you take out a Big Mac during a corporate budget meeting? (If you answer “yes” to this, you have a career waiting for you at the DMV, and even they don’t allow eating at your desk.) You’re not going to die of thirst in an hour; visit the drinking fountain en route to the classroom, and you’ll survive.

6. Mimic the study habits of the “A” students. Don’t fall into the slacker category (even though it’s easier or “cooler”). If possible, BE the Smart Kid in the class, the one who’s asked to join a study group rather than the one who’s always begging people to study with them. That said, there’s only space for one name on your degree certificate, so:
a. Avoid study groups. Mostly, you end up wasting your time propping up slackers and/or stupid people. Your education is your responsibility, and yours alone.
b. Avoid group projects, and avoid classes which set lots of group projects, as much as possible. If you HAVE to do a group project, secretly do ALL the work yourself and have it ready for when one member (or more) of the group flakes and doesn’t do their part of the assignment (the chances of this happening at least once during your college career: 100%).

7. Take the free marks. If there’s an attendance grade(!) and/or graded homework which will count towards the final grade, those are free marks. Grab them and get 100%. Think about it: if attendance is 5% and homework is 15% of the final grade, that’s 20% of your final grade in the bag if you get 100% for each. More to the point, NOT getting 100% for the giveaways is throwing marks away. Don’t refuse the gift.

8. Visit the library early and often. Google doesn’t count. Look up related books on your courses, and discuss how those authors differ from your prescribed texts with your prof. He’ll know you’re a serious student, and he’ll take your papers and exams more seriously. And in doing so, you’ll actually learn more about your course of study — which, lest we forget, is a Good Thing. Serious students get As, and if you’re not working towards As and Bs in every single course, you have no business being in college.

9. Enroll in as many summer classes as you can. Three months’ vacation is just wasted time, UNLESS you’re working like hell to pay off your tuition instead of taking out a loan. Also, use spring break to get ahead of your upcoming studies instead of puking your guts out / winning wet t-shirt competitions in Daytona, South Padre or Cabo. People who work in the real world get only two or three weeks’ vacation a year; as a student, you’re entitled to no more. One more time; college is a job, not an opportunity for Bacchanalian excess. Even worse, it’s a job you have to pay for. Treat it accordingly.

10. Choose your courses wisely. Know up front, by the way, that just because a particular course is in the catalog, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be taught during any particular semester. (I missed a French sub-major because the one class I needed for qualification wasn’t offered during my final semester.)
a.) If you’re not going to get a STEM degree, consider carefully whether you should be going to college at all. At worst, you should consider a business degree — a serious one, not “Business Communications” or suchlike nonsense. A serious business degree will involve heavy-duty statistics, math, economics and at least two accounting classes — more, if you’re going to specialize in Finance. If your prospective college’s school of business doesn’t offer such an intensive degree, find another college. Doing well in a business course (MBA, MFA etc.) requires as much work, study and dedication as a medical doctor’s M.D. degree.
b.) Expect to have to look for a job in the global market, so become fluent in a second significant* language, and if you’re of foreign origin and are already fluent in Spanish, Hindi or Chinese, for example, become fluent in a third language. It helps especially if the second language is relevant to your future career. (If you’re no good at languages, you’d better be damn good at something else.)
c.) Don’t take any course with the word “Studies” in its title or catalog description. You will find that “ethnic” or “gender” studies qualify you to do nothing at all. If you have a burning desire to take such courses, postpone the action for post-grad, as “adult education.”
d.) Degrees in “Communications” or “Education” are worthless. They do allow you to say “I have a college degree” but they are a red flag to anyone reading your resume. Ditto all the courses mentioned in c.) above. Here are just two examples relating to this choice of career.
1.) Back in the 1930s, a professor asked one of his students what he intended to do after graduation. When the student said he was interested in becoming a journalist, the professor was appalled, saying “That’s no career for a university man!” Wiser words were seldom spoken.
2.) In this day and age, if you’re getting a degree which (you believe) will get you a teaching job, you will be wasting your time and money. There is a huge glut of teachers, and most college teaching jobs will soon be made redundant by online courses anyway. Public school teaching nowadays is a career for deadbeats and idiots: no matter how dedicated you are, or how much you love the chillins, the public school bureaucracy will stamp that out in a minimum of one year. The dropout rate for new teachers is appallingly high: 60% on average will quit after the second year of teaching, and go on to do something else. If you’re one of the 60%, don’t even think of getting a job in corporate training — your B.Ed will make you the dunce of the applicants, and H.R. knows it. (If you can’t define the difference between training and education, quit now.)

If all the above do not make you want to become a welder, carpenter or electrician, then good luck to you. (The often-scorned “tradesmen” jobs such as the ones listed are actually a far better bet than a B.A. when it comes to long-term financial success, but I’ll be discussing that in another post.)

Oh, and one last caveat, if you’re absolutely set on going to college: never, ever join a sorority or fraternity, no matter how much you hear about the wonderfulness of being a sister or brother. They are degree-killers, and the failure rate in the “Greek” community is appalling. Animal House was great comedy, but it’s no way to go through life, son.

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*a “significant” language means a major economic country’s language, such as Chinese, Japanese, German, Russian, Hindi, or Arabic. Languages such as Catalan, Celtic or Icelandic, for example, may be lovely romantic choices but they’re irrelevant, economically speaking.

Culture Clash

While I was attending our local community college, I struck up a friendship with a kid in our Physics class. Hassan was Moroccan, about 20 years old, and had a wonderful sense of humor. He looked like any American kid, behaved like one and without his slight accent, you’d think he was born in Ohio or something.

So one day Hassan and I were hanging out in the corridor outside the classrooms, when two girls sat down next to us and started chatting away in some foreign language. They were, in a word, exquisite (in a trashy-Kardashian kind of way) — dark, expressive eyes, long black hair beautifully styled, fashionable clothes and expensive shoes. They looked more as though they were about to go out on a date than attend class.

Anyway, at some point a Muslim guy walked past us — Muslim, because he was wearing that silly skullcap thing and the white shift over long trousers. He looked at the girls, said something in Arabic to Hassan, and walked off.

Hassan bent over double with laughter, and when I asked him what the guy had said, he replied, “Persian whores.”

And there you have it, in a nutshell. Three recent immigrants (Hassan and the girls) who’d come here and assimilated (a little too much in the case of the girls, but still), and one asshole who’d brought over his 11th-century culture and would never assimilate.

And if you think for one minute that he’d inflict some Islamic-style caning on those two pretty girls if he could, you’d be perfectly correct. I saw it in his eyes.

 

Back To School — An Introduction

After the end of my old blog, The Mrs. decreed that before her health got too bad, she wanted to fulfill her lifelong dream and go live in France for a few years. Of course, our finances would not allow us to do that — Paris is obscenely expensive in terms of apartment rental, not to mention all the other stuff — so she came up with a Grand Plan.

“You’ll just have to work there to support us.”

“Doing what?”

“Teach. At an American school or something.” (Grand Plans, by definition, are somewhat vague on details.)

“But I can’t get a teaching job without a university degree.”

“So get one.”

Therefore at age 55, it was back to school for Kim, with (in the Bard’s words): “shining morning face, creeping like a snail unwillingly to school”. One and a half years at community college to get the “core” courses (what I thought would have been covered in high school, silly me), followed by one and a half years to get my B.A. (I took on a per-semester course load which would have made John Milton weep, and took every summer class I could).

Anyway, to make a very long story not quite so long, at age 58 I graduated summa cum laude from University of North Texas with a B.A. (History, Modern Western Europe emphasis).

During my last semester at UNT I started looking at American schools first in Paris, then elsewhere in France as a backup. (I speak both French and German more or less fluently, but The Mrs. didn’t like the idea of living in Germany even though it would have been a lot easier to find a gig at a U.S. military base.)

Then Connie’s health went over a cliff. First, her back collapsed completely, necessitating several spinal operations which didn’t help, but reduced her height from 6’1″ to 5’11”. Mobility was going to be an issue, so a ground-floor apartment in Paris was going to be the only option.

And then came cancer: Stage 4 ovarian, with a 95% mortality rate. At that point, a move out of the country was clearly impossible.

I’m not going to dwell on the latter, for reasons I’m sure you understand. What I am going to talk about, in the months that follow, are my experiences at an institute of hire learning [sic] and my encounters with academia. If you think of me as that “Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur”, only with a very bad attitude, you won’t be far wrong.

Oh, and lest anyone’s still curious about my finances and the need for a GoFundMe appeal, allow me to add just two words: student loans. The tuition at Collin College was paid in cash; the tuition at UNT was not.