After grading students’ blogs today, I am inspired by what some of them chose to write about. It was a variation of “what I did on my summer vacation,” but instead of what they did, students wrote about what they plan to do or hope to do this coming summer. I’ve been thinking about my own summer vacation, so I thought this would be a great topic for me to explore as well.
Two years ago, Chuck and I bought an older Minnie Winnie motorhome. Initially, we looked into renting one of those newer motorhomes you’ll sometimes see cruising down the highway in the summer, but the cost was prohibitive. This 1992 Minnie Winnie had been owned by an older couple (yes, older than us) and had been well-cared for, and while not fancy by any means, it would suit us well for traveling with our dogs. We decided to invest in something we could use over and over, and in 2014 we set off on an epic vacation for three weeks of travel.
We have marvelous memories from that summer, seeing everything from the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming to the Ozark Mountains and Table Rock Lake in Missouri/Arkansas, to Amarillo by morning, and beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico. I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, and we managed to see parts of Utah’s great parks on the way home. We spent three, lovely weeks just sightseeing and hanging with our favorite friends, Rosie and Basco. I recognized the serenity of getting up each day not knowing what we would experience but looking forward to another day of new experiences, and I took it all in.
Last summer, we were short on money, so we decided to stay close to home. We took the motorhome out a couple times for camping, and we enjoyed it, but at the end of the summer, I regretted that we hadn’t spent more time in it, exploring other parts of the U.S. Now, as we near midterm of the spring semester, I’m starting to think about what I might want to do this summer, and I have lots of ideas.
Adam will spend at least one more summer in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and I really want to try to spend some time with him hiking, maybe horseback riding, whatever. In the same area, our good friends from Clyde Park, “Uncle Ronnie” and Anne have a place in Big Fork and they sometimes spend time at Flathead Lake. My former colleague and still friend, Mike Cronin, and his wife Jan are living in the Whitefish area, and I’d love to visit them. I have an aunt and uncle in Kalispell, and it would be fun to see them, too.
I’ve never been to Canada. Kind of crazy, really, since I’ve been to Mexico and Europe and the UK, but I haven’t visited the foreign country closest to my home. I’ve heard lots of good things about the beauty and interesting activities available up north, and that’s on my bucket list, too.
While I’ve been to North Dakota dozens of times, I have lots of family there that I’d love to visit, especially in the Dickinson area. Also, I’m curious about the Bakken and all the changes over the past several years, and now things are changing again. If we went that far, it’d be a shame not to touch foot in Wisconsin: I’ve never been there and that’s the only Great Lakes state I haven’t visited. But once in Wisconsin, it’s just a hop, skip, and jump to Michigan, and we’ve got lots of friends there, and Michigan borders Ohio, another state I’ve yet to visit. Heck, we’d practically be in the neighborhood, and we couldn’t come back without checking out West Virginia, another state I can’t yet check off my list.
Gas prices are low this year, much lower than two years ago, and I’ll pay off my car in November, so we probably can afford to do a little more this year than last. However, summers in Montana are about the best, and we absolutely love our home in Montana City. Not once, not for one second, have we regretted our decision to move here. Even though I have entertained the possibility of moving somewhere for the perfect professional opportunity, I’m not certain I’d ever be happier than I am here. I’m going to buy a map of Helena hiking trails, Mt. Helena and Mt. Ascension, and spend more time traipsing those trails, more time kayaking and more of that on moving water, and I want to spend some time birdwatching this summer, too. We have an amazing array of birds in our area, and I’m embarrassed not to be able to recognize most of them. And then there’s my lonely violin that gets played rarely, and there’s our dogs, and Leo the 19-year-old cockatiel. Ah summer…
I ask students to write blogs; it’s part of their grade (assessment) in developmental writing. Not every student loves the assignment, but some students enjoy it, and some students do really great work. It’s one of my favorite things to grade because sometimes it’s the place where I really get to know students—in a way I otherwise wouldn’t—and it’s also a venue for writing what they are thinking about, which can be very interesting.
I wanted to be a good teacher-model today, but I was feeling uninspired; nothing seemed very compelling until I thought about some of the prompts I provide for students when they are feeling uninspired, and I remembered the one that asks, “What is the value of a college education?” and I felt like I had something to say about that.
In my experience, and based on what I’ve seen as a college instructor, a college education leads to whatever a person is willing to work for, nothing more and nothing less. A college education can open doors that would otherwise remain closed, mostly because a person lacks a particular skill or information, but if a person has the skill but lacks the willingness to prioritize and work, the job will remain elusive.
College is not the diploma, and this is a misconception: some students show up at college and seem to believe that the money they’ve paid to attend college guarantees them a diploma. Whoa! That would be nice, but we have a name for those schools: we call them “diploma mills,” and the value of those diplomas is usually less than they cost, literally. At a reputable college or university, the money one pays for tuition and fees offers the opportunity to earn a diploma, but there are no guarantees. The determining factor is the amount of work a person puts into the educational process.
This might change in the future, with the emphasis from a variety of political fronts to have X number of college graduates in year XXXX. It’s not a bad goal to have more members of society become college educated; however, the goal of having a specific number of graduates by a specific year seems contrary to what higher education is all about. Post-secondary education should not become a tag-on to what students do and learn in K-12, but that seems to be the direction things are going.
This is not a hierarchical problem. It’s not a matter of wanting to keep out certain people or save the value of the bachelor’s degree. Rather, it’s a matter of working for something valuable and knowing the value of that process. It’s showing up for class every day and doing all the required work; it’s going the extra mile once-in-a-while, and truly engaging with the learning process. It’s taking constructive criticism and growing from it, while enjoying the accolades that hard work and motivation will earn.
There are many reasons why some of the systems in our society are broken, and I’m not interested in slinging mud or figuring out who is responsible. What I am interested in is making sure that students who pay money to be in my class are getting their money’s worth: a rigorous, demanding education in language arts that will serve them well in their personal, professional, and civic lives, one that they earn through their blood, sweat, and tears, but one that will be—undoubtedly—far more valuable than the $500 or so dollars that they pay for the class.