Sunday, June 2, 2013

Was my education a waste? - I

It  has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought -- that is to be educated. -Edith Hamilton, educator and writer (1867-1963) 

People will often come home and tell Sujit, 'You must study like your father.' In the same breath, they will add, 'But anyway there is no use studying. Look at what happened to your father.' (It is interesting to note that such advice is often for other kids. When it comes to their own kids, many of the same people will have strict guidelines for academic performance.) In the initial confusion, I used to agree  with them.

When my father died when I was studying in first year engineering  in REC, Trichy (now NIT, Trichy), there was a proposal to get me a job in TELCO (now TATA Motors) where my father was working, because there was  no other working member in my family. (This was possible then; I don't think this would happen now.) If the tuition fees that I had to pay at that time was not very low, I would have discontinued my studies and taken up the job. Perhaps that is what I should have done?

I was not intending to study further after engineering. When I was working in Bajaj Auto Ltd., many folks who joined with me were preparing for something called CAT (those days we  did not have dozens of TV channels hunting for some news so I did not see headlines about the CAT exam and interviews with CAT aspirants) and I joined the bandwagon. I attempted CAT because  the tuition fee was very less at that time and I felt I could afford it. (So the ramblings in this blog are the product of a not-so-expensive education.)

Should I have worked for a longer time instead of wasting my time in further studies? If you consider the only worth of education to be to increase your earning capacity, then obviously my education was a waste. But that would be a narrow view to take. In What’s the point of a college education?, Janet Stemwedel writes about Boethius, a Roman patrician who suddenly fell from grace, and was imprisoned, tortured and killed:
Before his execution, he had a lot of time to mope. Indeed, how could he avoid wallowing in just how far he had fallen from having it all?
While in prison, Boethius wrote Consolations of Philosophy, an imagined dialogue between himself and Lady Philosophy. Here’s a synopsis:
Boethius: Boy, it really sucks to be me. I had everything and now I have nothing.
Lady Philosophy: Dude, snap out of it. The stuff that really matters is the stuff that even a sudden change of fortune can’t take from you.
A job is nice. So is political power, a fancy chariot, hangers-on. But you can have all these things and still not be happy or fulfilled. And, if your happiness depends on having such things, you’re pretty vulnerable to sudden reversals.
So how has my education helped me? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, let me count the ways. Firstly, I would not have met most of the people I know now and who have been instrumental in my being able to deal with changed circumstances. One of the outcomes of studying in good institutions is the friendships that you make, relationships that endure throughout life.

I was encouraged to develop the reading habit in school and the books I have read have enabled me to while away the days and nights without getting bored stiff and this has  helped me to gradually get used to the changed circumstances. It has increased my joy-to-stuff ratio. (I heard of a POW who practised mental golf during his incarceration.By the time he was released, he had  improved his game by 6 strokes. Similarly, I have been practisinsg my straight drive and if it is not as Tendulkar's was in his prime, it is not due to want of trying.)

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