EducationHigher EducationPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Is Mike Rowe Delusional?

Work smarter and harderThis video has been making its rounds among the teachers in my school.  It is a very short video (1 minute so watch it) in which Mike Rowe talks about how important the skilled trades are, and that there is currently a skills gap. I admit that I agree with him.  I see that students are pushed towards college with only the thought of their academic potential, but without the thought of practical realities.  Can you afford college? Are you mature enough for college? What is the minimum education you need to achieve the start of your career goal? (and once you get that start can you get the company to pay for the rest of your education?)

I look at what I did.  I went to Marywood University, a catholic former women’s college for science education (it went co-ed a number of years before I went there).  I was afraid of a larger school.  I was afraid of entering the male dominated science field without the protection of a women’s centric college.  I wanted physics education, but they did not offer it.  I took biology/general science education. I went to Marywood,  got my undergraduate degree in science education in 1996 and entered the teaching profession in 1998, I began teaching in public school in 1999.  But here I am 17 years later still paying off my undergraduate degree.  Was this the best choice? Should I have looked for alternatives?  Don’t get me wrong I am very happy with my life, happy with my education and time at college, I am happy with my career, but I am especially happy that I found a program to fund my graduate studies.

There is all this data out there that says the more education you have the better off you do economically.

Earnings and unemployment rates by education

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

I look at this graph ( and feel that is it incomplete.  I wish that there was more detail to this.  I wish I saw time in this graph.  When did a person get a higher education?  Was it after a struggle?  What is the best path to take?  What is the best advice to give to my students?

I look at the people around me: The music teacher who worked her way through college as a carpenter, the skilled carpenter who teaches at the Philadelphia wood boat factory, my husband the autodidact who asks why should I take a class, all the smart people write books and I can learn what I want for free at the library and I find…

What I really want is a dialog. I, the granddaughter of a homemaker, a butcher, a mechanic and a woman who worked on some of the earliest computers in the United States asks you how did you get where you are?  Are you happy?  Are you financially secure? What advice would you give to yourself at 15 facing the daunting task of planning your high school career?  Take another year of a language you hate in the hopes of getting into a good college? Go to tech school and learn a trade?  Accelerate through high school so that you can get to the field you really want to study in college? If you were to do it over again what would you do different?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons (ET). Featured image taken from Mike Rowe’s Face book page. 

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Jennifer teaches science in a public school in Pennsylvania. She lives there with her husband and two dogs.

1 Comment

  1. March 1, 2014 at 6:06 am —

    This is an issue that has been on my mind for the past year. Following in my father’s (and grandfather’s) footsteps, I got my MA and PhD and eventually got a tenured position in a university in South Korea. My university is going through a rough time right now (like many in Korea, as the college student population will decline by a whopping 40% over the next 10 years) and we’re not sure if it is going to make it. Tenured positions are shrinking rapidly here in Korea (and not so easily available elsewhere these days, as you all know), yet the number of people getting PhDs still seems to be on the rise. Considering all the time and money I spent on my education just to get here, I wonder if I made the right choice. Had I become an electrician, plumber, or what have you right after high school, I’d be a LOT farther in my life financially by this time (I’m in my 40s).
    I do like teaching and the research (I’m in applied linguistics), and if I weren’t married with three children, I’d be 100% fine with what I’m doing now. But financially things have always been tight and I worry about the future. If I had to do things over again, I’d probably study computer programming. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d advise anyone to pursue a PhD unless they had not only a passion for their particular field, but also some confidence that they could be brilliant in the field and thus assured of a tenured position in a good university.

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