Doesn’t it seem sometimes like life imitates art? That the same issues that were being written about — class, education, nationality — in the books of previous centuries can still be written about today?
Does where you grow up determine your education? Does it depend on coming from the “right” type of family who signed you up for extracurricular coursework? Or, is education self-determined? Can you embrace the autodidact tendencies of Massachusetts
-raised Jack Kerouac
, who skipped school to read voraciously in library?
Education was paramount in my family. My father especially believed that getting a good education was my job. It was his job to have a job, to have a career in which he could earn money to provide for his family. This would allow him to put me through the best and most expensive college so that one day I could have a reputable, well-paying job. Consequently, as a teenager, I could babysit occasionally, but I was not allowed to hold a regular after-school job when instead I should be studying. From what I observed growing up, that was common among the class of immigrant families in my hometown. Parents who had pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps worked tirelessly so that they could provide their children with a good education that would enable us to live better, easier, more fruitful lives.
Yahoo Real Estate recently came out with its annual list of most educated states in America. It didn’t surprise me at all to see my home states of New Jersey and New York on the list. I attended a Blue Ribbon high school in Bergen County, New Jersey, and my classmates and I went on to attend some of the highest-ranked colleges in the country. Not only that, almost every single friend from my childhood that I’ve kept in touch with went on to grad school as well—and that includes people that were in honors and AP classes and people who were never really into academics.
I mention friends first because I didn’t grow up with extended family nearby. My cousins—those from my father’s side, first generation; those from my mother’s side, here just a few generations longer—were in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that these states as well were all in the top ten most educated states in America!
That’s not to claim that my family is the most well-educated or that we use our education to further traditional, high-paying careers. Some of us have master’s degrees, others of us just graduated high school. Some of us have careers, others of us are homemakers. Some of us read for pleasure, some of us play video games. Still, we have the foundations and the options to choose what we want to do. I’m reminded of the eighteenth-century British novels I read about women of a certain class, who were well educated even though they were never going to use their education outside the home. They would surely study French and Latin and learn to play the piano and paint frescos because it made them more interesting, more desirable, more well-rounded. They enjoyed learning for the sake of learning.
I think there’s something to be said for living in a state that values education. Even if one prefers to work with her hands or to be a stay-at-home father, both of which are noble, being well educated provides options and allows one to enjoy a rich interior life. One of my friends lived in a state that did not value education. Rather, when her daughter raised her hand to answer questions in class, her classmates mocked her for being interested in school. The girl began to shut down, to stop raising her hand, to stop caring about school. Fortunately, my friend recognized what was going on and was able to get her out of that situation. Now her daughter reads and writes even outside the classroom.
I go through phases where I get lazy and watch a lot of Netflix. Right now, though, I’ve been reading and writing a lot again—and it feels so good! I can’t believe I ever got so distracted and lazy to stop doing what I love. Suddenly my life feels richer. I feel like I’m doing what I’m called to do. And part of me has been thinking about furthering my education again. I’ve been missing the structure and challenge of academia. I’ve been wanting to be exposed to new ideas, to be challenged by books I’d never think to read on my own. I wonder if it’s worth it to get my PhD. University costs are so outrageously expensive, and when you work in the arts, where little money is the norm, it’s hard to justify going into debt. That’s why I’m glad I live in New York. New York is a university unto itself. There are so many great readings, lectures, and panels I can attend—and often for free. I can go to the library and check out books at random or I can do a little digging and find recommended reading lists like Allen Ginsberg’s Celestial Homework.
In descending order, the most educated states in America are:
- New York
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
No matter where you’re from in America, though, you can educate yourself by seeking out mentors and reading good books. Even if one is illiterate, a lot of libraries and churches offer volunteers who can help.
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