I’ve been asked some variation on “are you going to college?” more times than I can count, and I don’t generally give a more elaborate answer than “no.” Occasionally, when pressed, I say that what I want to be doing (cooking!) doesn’t require a degree. Or that I’m doing more interesting things (to me) than going to school. But when I was asked that question online recently, I finally wrote a response that explains in more detail why I’m not going to university*, and that response has been re-worked into this post.
So, am I ever going to go to university?
I don’t like to say never, because lots of things change, but I definitely can’t see myself going to university full time or for a degree in the foreseeable future. I’m sort of vaguely considering just taking a class or two sometime in the next year, or maybe, possibly, going to culinary school at some point, but I haven’t really made any decisions on either of those possibilities yet.
Why don’t I want to go?
As for why I don’t plan on going to university fulltime, I have many reasons. A list of bullet-point reasons, even.
- There is nothing I want to be doing right now as a job or “career” or whatever that would require a degree, so the only reason (and this is a good reason to go to university for many people!) would be for pure enjoyment/learning purposes, which leads me to…
- I’m not very into more academic subjects, as a rule. Most of the things I enjoy doing tend to be really tactile and immediate. I like cooking and gardening and having one-on-one conversations. Sure, I like reading about feminism and social justice and radical education. Hell, a major focus of my life for a few years was reading and talking and writing about unschooling! But I sort of feel that what I really want and need to be doing in my life right now is just that: doing, not studying.
- I don’t enjoy learning-for-the-sake-of-learning (and having said that I swear I can almost hear a horrified gasp from lots of people in my unschooling community). For me to enjoy and take in information or learn a skill well, it has to feel genuinely important and relevant in my life and/or the lives of the people close to me, my community, etc. I’m very happily reading through a large book on fermentation (Sandor Ellix Katz is awesome) because I want to be fermenting more foods and beverages. I’m going to pick up a really awesome looking book (The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer) on wild edibles soon, because I want to be foraging a lot more with my sister come spring. Social justice issues, radical politics, and radical sustainability are important because I want to be a good person, act in as kind and non-oppressive a way as possible, live in a genuinely sustainable way, etc. University has always seemed to me to be so incredibly removed from the rest of the world, and I really don’t want that, or think that that removal is generally a healthy thing.
- I hate how inaccessible academia is. Both the price, though that is at least less of an issue where I am than many other places**, but also the very language and culture of universities and academia. Though I’ve seen and been bothered by this on multiple occasions, a specific instance that stands out to me was one time when I was at a talk, and this one dude just started bringing up objections and questions in the most ridiculously academic language you can imagine, and referencing books and authors I’d never heard of. As the conversation between the speaker (an academic herself) and the audience member continued, I had absolutely no clue what they were talking about. And I say this as someone who is generally read as well educated (by people unaware of my being an unschooler, since then of course folks start to think otherwise), a native English speaker, and someone usually considered skilled with words. It just hit me very profoundly that if this seemed inaccessible to me, how much more inaccessible is it to so very many other people? It just doesn’t sit right with me.
- Also, when I think of being in classrooms for some four years or more, I feel like I’d be trapped. I’m literally mildly horrified at the idea. It does not sound appealing at all.
There are more personal reasons, and there are far more nuanced critiques of the institution of university to be found out there. But from my perspective, those things are a very good overview of why I have no plans or desire to go to university.
Really, there are so many more interesting (to me) things I want to be doing right now in my life, things that are relevant and exciting and hands-on. No classrooms needed.
*I say university not “college” because here in Quebec, college (also known as CEGEP) is a between high school and university thing, and is not synonymous with university.
**In Quebec the average tuition per year is $2,519 (source: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/educ50f-eng.htm)
Idzie Desmarais is a lifelong unschooler from Montreal, who also generally identifies as a radical, cook, feminist, writer, and queer, among other things. She writes about unschooling and alternative education at I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write.
Well, good for you. You know what you want to do and you are going to do it. There is nothing wrong with college or university (I write from Ontario)…. but if you do not see it as right for you now, then that makes sense! Why spend time or money on something that has no “real goal”? And yes, you can write, and do so well. So you have a gift, a talent there. And some experience, which is good, too!
I applaud your honesty. And, of course, today, there are so many ways to learn things that interest you other than in a formal setting. And if you are happy, and like cooking, and apparently do so well…. well, there are opportunities there for you, also. Perhaps working from home, or in a small bakeshop, either yours, or someone else’s. And then there are all the things that normal people do that are very useful and productive to society, but do not entail some “degree”, or fancy job title, or whatever.
Hang in there! Keep up at it! When I was young, the expression was “Keep on trucking”. And keep writing, too.
What is bothersome to me about this post is: “(and having said that I swear I can almost hear a horrified gasp from lots of people in my unschooling community).” I’m not into judging people too much, although I could get pretty horrified by people not pursuing life long learning. I don’t give a rodent’s behind what educational path a person is on, if it’s working for them why be judgmental?
I love the concept and practice of unschooling and I certainly can be accused of learning for the sake of learning (though I strive for design intent), but to rail on Ms. Desmarais’ path is useful to no one. I also love what college did for my daughter and what she did for her particular university.
If people could just dismount from their horse of unschooling vs. other avenues and collectively support people pursuing knowledge and education, perhaps folks like Idzie wouldn’t have to expend energy on defending her choice and spend it on honing her culinary expertise.
It’s okay, I think you misinterpreted that comment of mine! The unschooling community has been and continues to be an extremely supportive part of my life, and no one from that community has ever scolded me for my lack of curiosity-about-everything.
However, a lot of unschooling parents *do* like to talk about how unschooling fosters curiosity (which it does) and how their kids love learning about/are curious about EVERYTHING. It’s easy to become very enthusiastic about sharing unschooling with other people, since so many are so aggressive in their doubt the philosophy works, that some things maybe get blown out of proportion or overused as Benefits Of Unschooling, I think. So my comment was simply referencing that.
I hope that makes my comment clearer! 🙂
Gotcha Idzie! Thank you. To be honest you were clear. I was looking at your comment through the framework of some militant unschoolers that I allowed myself to get exposed to. My bad.
Idzie, wonderful to read you here.
I’m reading this today a few hours after finishing the new DML report, “Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design.” Your post and the report seem very conversant with one another – and the lenses/design features through which DML views learning are very much in line with your take on learning with purpose and the kind of engagement with the world that lets us be good people. I’m glad I got to think of these two pieces so closely together in time.
There is so much that powerful learning has in common across all the different places it occurs, so without spending anymore undue time on this or that, I’ll just ask if you have generalizable learning advice for us from your experiences.
I’m really glad you enjoyed this post and found it timely!
I love your question about any generalizable learning advice I might have, and I’m using that question as a prompt for a post I’m writing on my blog… I’ll post the link here when it’s done!
It took me much longer than planned to finish and publish that post, but it’s up on my blog now! Learning Advice from a Learning Life: http://yes-i-can-write.blogspot.ca/2013/03/learning-advice-from-learning-life.html
Showing this to my 17 yr old who got their GED last year and now just wants to travel a bit because I know they’re going to hear that question 1,000 times a day. I love the l line, “It does not sound appealing at all.”, and may use it liberally when asked to volunteer at this thing or help out with that. Thanks for sharing with us.