It must be because the huge cultural extravaganza known as “Back to School” is banging on the front door, but I return again to the ghost that haunts me — the Master’s degree.
As teenagers we were assured that you can’t make it in life without a high school diploma. Check. When I quit college at 20, I was warned that I’ve never make it without a Bachelor’s degree. I went back to college at 32, a single mom with three kids, and rocked it, graduating summa cum laude with departmental honors.
Has this piece of paper earned me any respect or validation? No. Tens of thousands of dollars of debt later, those in a position to hire still smile politely and roundfile my application as soon as my back is turned to leave the office. The new base standard is the almighty Master’s degree (cue angelic choir.)
I almost finished one in 2007. I could choose the path of regret, but I refuse. I hated my program and was only in it because I loved every minute of the accompanying opportunity to teach as a graduate fellow. I was marrying that man for his money.
And I still want to teach. My passion for language and deep desire to share it with others is the only reason I keep revisiting this unpleasant topic of validation-by-paper.
That crossroads is still there — to go further down the path of institutionalization, or just once and for all to jump outside the box and run.
The lure of respect, retirement, health care, all the fancy must-have perks of working in the system sing their siren songs beneath a banner embossed in gold leaf with my name, followed by venerable capital letters which would brand me as belonging to the Worthy Herd.
But the other path, that “road less traveled,” where could it possibly lead? How would a person walk it, and how would you know when you got somewhere?
I think the only way to arrive at a comparable level of respect and validation along an alternate path is celebrity by fame or huge accomplishment. Write a well-received book, found a successful institution, develop a new theory or become otherwise positively renowned and they will throw their honorary diplomas at you like confetti. And at that moment, rather than hungrily grab at them, you would smile a bit and half-interestedly watch them fall.
And if this path never leads to respect or validation by those who dwell in an office wallpapered with credentials? If the journey is never more than a humble scraping by?
Perhaps the most essential question is — how can I become one of them, participating in and advocating for a bloated, self-important system whose stranglehold on the job market might not reflect a legitimate need for more and more education but might simply reveal the epidemic of greed for tuition dollars?
But the most vital question for me personally is, shouldn’t I be willing to make any compromise rather than take the risk that I’ll never teach again?