Education Can Be Wasted on the Young
10 July 2010
This goes out to all of you who aspire to send your kids to college…
I recently revisited the main library at the university where I went to college. It was a breathtaking experience. I truly felt as if I’d never been there before. Granted, it’s been renovated and upgraded here and there, but essentially it’s the same grand, resource-rich Nirvana.
But back then I really had no idea. How rich those resources were, how precious their availability. I did what I had to do, studied where my friends were hanging out, ate too much greasy Chinese food, narrowed down my daily path to the bare minimum. It was all about expediency in those days of youth, and the path of least resistance.
Consider a simple thing like work space. For the last 15 years, I have lived in apartments and houses that lack for anything resembling privacy or a sanctuary of solitude. Wandering the small study rooms and rare-book rooms and catalog rooms of the august aforementioned library, I was stunned by how many private nooks and crannies and mezzanines I found. Beautiful church-like spaces, little ambulatory chapels of quiet. Long tables, lounge chairs, private carrels, whatever your fancy — a place to work, a place to delve into your novel, your research, your manuscript, whatever it may be.
And then there are the little things you take for granted — until you go freelance and realize just how stressful it is to find an affordable copy place, to pay for your own printer toner, to find wi-fi connections when you are en route between here and there. Everywhere I turned, there was a shiny new machine or a friendly plug-in spot ready and waiting.
And then of course… there are the books. After printing out my one-sheeters from the catalog with titles and call numbers, I proceeded into the stacks. Into the elevator, down to the 3rd floor, end of the row: bingo. Back into the elevator, two floors up, a few rows in: bullseye. And so on, to the 10th, 11th, and back to the 6th floors. Up-down, in-out, everything I needed just where it was supposed to be. Then happily on my way with the flick of a card; and NOT a credit card. (Special thanks to the good people at Elliott Bay Book Co. for the gift of an extra large industrial canvass tote, which came in handy on this particular excursion.)
No kidding — it really was miraculous. Reflecting on the contrast between then and now, I couldn’t believe that none of it struck me as particularly revelatory — or struck me really at all — when I was a student. (And overall, I was a reasonably conscientious student.) I had a friend who had tacked up above his desk a number, as a reminder: something like $142.27 (it was exact like that), what he’d worked out as representing how much each hour of class he skipped or snoozed through was costing him (he bore the loan responsibility himself). He had the right idea.
What I’m saying is: education can be wasted on the young. Consider — parents of would-be college students who’ve lived relatively comfortable lives — the Year-Off Plan, or the Two Years-Off Plan. It’s worth them arriving at university with eyes to see, ready for miracles.
Also: at Bookforum’s “Omnivore,” links re: “What are Universities For?“