Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I heard a piece of Terry Gross' interview with writer James Fallows today. The incisive, dependable Fallows, speaking from China at 2:45 a.m. to a thankful Gross was uncharacteristically emotional. It might have something to do with the fact that the Chinese turn off heat in all buildings at night and it was 10 degrees as he answered Terry's questions. More likely, it was because he was talking bout the recent loss of his father that made Fallows so pensive and non-political. Among other things, he noted that his father was not a world traveler like he has been. In fact, Fallow's dad never left the small town where he practiced medicine, served on the school board, and performed a host of other civic duties.
Fallows then went on to explain that his dad was a World War II vet who was expedited through medical school never receiving his college degree because the need for doctors in the war was too great and they needed to get them through school and working as soon as possible. "I think he felt guilty that he never got his degree," Fallows said. "That's why he felt the need to continue to educate himself throughout his life." He went on to add that his father taught himself a few languages and always satisfied his curiosity through study, inquiry, and first hand experience.
My late father-in-law had a similar experience. He too was shipped out in his senior year at U C Berkeley to complete med school in Kansas so that he could be part of the war effort. It bothered him too that he never finished college. So much so that after a twenty year career as an OBGYN, he went back to Cal, got an advanced degree in public health and went on to teach at U C Berkeley until is retirement in 1993. He still traveled to India, China, SE Asia and the like until his Alzheimer's got the best of him by 2000.
I wonder how many people that never complete a degree for some reason or other, find themselves committed to continuing education. Both these men had the luxury of a doc's income to finance their learning. They had the drive too. I wonder how many folks find some way to go up the learning curve on heir own?
In our tabloid culture, it's no wonder very few any more feel guilt about not completing their education. Your best effort is more of a reminder than an automatic. So many 30 somethings I know are hell bent not to work too much. The school guilt may still be around, but it's intertwined with financial or ethical decisions (barely) not educational ones.
I saw in the sports page today that a ball player who had a history of attitude issues with his previous managers and teams has just signed with the Chicago Cubs pending his passing a physical. He's known to serious baseball fans, but not really recognizable to the casual ones. He's also known for injuring himself while throwing a fit over being thrown out. If he passes the doc's exam with flying colors he'll get $30 million over three years. Ten million a year for playing a game while schools lay off more, a tomato costs a buck and a half, and millions are one check away selling that Street Rag full of poems on the corner. This ballplayer's anger and immaturity will pass as entertainment while people on the street will just be passed.

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