Go onto Google and search for “I never went to college” or some such, and what do you find? You don’t find stories of people like me, someone who was a gifted kid, is a sophisticate, and a performing-artist type with intellectual curiosities but who just couldn’t stand to go to school anymore. No. All you see is salt-of-the-earth working-class types who were too dumb to hack it, who love “working with their hands” and dispense out folk “wisdom” that conforms with the middle class’s idealized view of simple living.
Well, that’s not me. For the first time here I’d like to tell my story and offer some thoughts.
A less-than-satisfactory Path
The highest credential I’ve earned to date is a high school diploma, but even that was the product of being homeschooled after I completed the seventh grade. My time in school, both public and private, stretching from kindergarten through seventh grade informs my (rather low) opinion of the mainstream education system.
The first standardized test I took was in third grade, 2003 I believe, near the height of “No Child Left Behind”. It came back at college level, above twelfth grade. Yet was I put into a gifted program? No, of course not, because there basically was no gifted program. Could I have at least skipped to a grade of my choosing? No, of course not, because grade-skipping wasn’t allowed. Well, maybe the state university right down the road could admit me and I could start studying there? No, of course not, they don’t admit nine-year-olds under any circumstances. Alright, if not that then maybe they could do something to help me? No, of course not, because they have literally no programs like that.
So what was I to do? Just sit there and rot in boredom so I could make the school’s test scores look better I suppose. Pay through the nose in property tax “to educate all the children” and that’s the reward you get! Though in all fairness most of my teachers did let me work on my own a lot when possible, but I could have just as easily done that at home. And indeed when my family became aware that there even was such a thing as homeschooling that’s what I did: just study at home. And in a slightly less formal capacity I’m still at it! Hooray for lifelong learning I suppose.
The only reason I even earned a high school diploma was because I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up (still don’t have much of an idea! 😉 ) and we all figured that since a vast array of paths require that credential and that it was very low-cost to get anyway I might as well get it. I always figured I was so smart I’d go to college and become some kind of well-credentialed bigshot, but I held off going until I felt the call to explore one path or another at university, a moment that never came.
To enroll or not to enroll?
All of the universities in my country that offer any remotely interesting intellectual environments are effectively closed to someone like me who didn’t have much in the way of recommendations or extracurriculars, or were otherwise unappealing. I could work my way in I’m sure, but it would take a lot of work. But here’s the kicker: even if I did get in, no degree or course of study has ever appealed to me that much, so I’ve never felt there was much point to trying.
I have toyed with the idea of getting a bachelor’s degree online through some low-cost method; it would be a generic liberal arts degree, but at least I’d have something I feel like I deserve. But the time (working hours a day for months!) and money (like $8000!) I’d sink into it would be put to so much better use elsewhere it turned my stomach whenever I seriously thought about it.
No Use for a Degree?
Perhaps because I don’t really have much use for a degree. Fulfilling my childhood and youth interest in the topic, I’m an investor in the stock market, and have proven adept at growing my nest egg over the years. It’s lucrative, but you need no credential to earn a living that way, only brainpower and some seed money.
I’ve got a passion for ballroom dancing, which I’ve pursued for a few years now, but going to college doesn’t help one to do that. Oh, you can study dance in college, but if dance is all you want to study taking classes and private lessons outside the higher education system is a much better value. I hope to get into choreography and teaching dance, as I seem to be good at both of them and I really like them, but a degree doesn’t help you do that either!
As for me writing my stories and building my online presence, like this blog and my Twitter account, one doesn’t need any credentials to do that either. So really, what good would a degree do me?
The best Age to go to College is…10? Yeah.
What’s really weird is that way back in third grade I had a lot more motivation and enthusiasm; by middle school I had just tired of it all. So you know how some people give up on going to college when they hit 30 or 40? That happened to me at like 10. The iron was hot then; I honestly think I would have liked earning a bachelor’s degree at that age, maybe going on in my teenage years to a master’s or a PhD.
That’s why I’m so in favor of mass acceleration, because I’ve lived the reality where young people are denied opportunities to do anything or become anybody in the education system, and that’s not something I want anybody to ever have to suffer again.
Where you raise your Children matters! A lot!
Location matters too. So many people bleat out “oh, you can do nice things anywhere, blah blah blah”, but that’s not real life. What opportunities you have access to are more or less dictated by your geographic location. The “cheap” parts of the United States’ vast interior, which includes where I’ve had to live for most of my life, are cheap for a reason. Unless you’re a hermit, have hickish passions in life, or are content with really low-quality people for company there’s very little for you there.
Looking back on it, I would have liked it much better if I could have been raised in a place like Los Angeles, gotten onto the performing arts track from childhood, and (barring perhaps a stint in college early in life) just never went to a school. A surprisingly large number of performing artists, most prominently Hollywood actors, never went to college (like me), never earned a high school diploma, never went to high school (like me), or even never went to school at all. Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas are part of this last and most triumphant section of the art world.
They have the kind of upbringing, have the kind of opportunities, and live in the kind of atmosphere I wish I could have always had, and that I pledge to give to my own children. Whenever I find any woman I’d like to have a child with, anyway. I’m the spear counterpart of Ayn Rand’s feminine woman, i.e. extremely picky.
My People, or the closest Thing to it!
As for the performing artist types, perhaps not coincidentally, considering I’m one of them, this concentration of smart, curious, creative people who are only weakly attached to the school-to-career pipeline is about the only stratum of our society I have anything in common with at all, the only stratum I’m not disappointed with in some way or have a grudge or grievance against.
For the longest time I thought I belonged in a setting that was really brainy or intellectual above all, but over time, especially the last few years, I have discovered that the arts is where I can apply my genius and actually have it be appreciated without having to jump through hoops and lead a life dominated by some crummy job’s tedium.
When you think about it, it becomes clear that every career track we send smart people down has one or both of these pitfalls. Some don’t mind it, but I just can’t stand it. And those who can’t stand it just have no place in the “professional” world. Even “the grind” part of doing the arts I find tolerable, even enjoyable, since it’s my own expressiveness and creativity being refined. So though I’ve never presented as a stereotypical artist, these are definitely my people.
Paths that aren’t supposed to Exist?
Paths in life for people like me, the aspiring sophisticates and performing artists, the investors who have enough talent to grow a nest egg to financial independence on their own, the intellectually gifted and curious, the people who are all these things but can’t stand to go to school or jump through arbitrary hoops, obviously exist; paths are out there.
Yet I get the distinct feeling from mainstream discourse that that’s not the way our society is supposed to work. I know it might sound strange, but even tech entrepreneurs’ path in life seem to have more cachet with the mainstream than people like me or Billie Eilish. To the point where tech is the go-to dumping ground for all the smart people who are too lazy or too against going to school.
Interestingly, perhaps the tech industry is more comprehensible to the mainstream because the archetypal tech founder went to an elite college but dropped out, downright straight-laced compared to Hollywood. Though even in the tech space Hollywood-level eschewing of school isn’t unheard of; David Karp, founder of Tumblr, was a high school dropout, and Eliezer Yudkowsky never went to a school. Nevertheless it doesn’t seem to be as common.
Not Fringe, just Early?
Though perhaps it’s more that I’m just early. As someone who went “meh” at best at every single truly major popular music artist, the rise of Billie Eilish to stardom is the finger in the wind; until like last week I had no idea how much being alienated from contemporary popular music was part of my identity. Now that I like pop now I feel like a brand new man. Something that usually happens in the teens only happens to me at 27; since I’ve been disappointed with my own Millennial generation I’m ready to turn in my Millennial card and identify as a member of Generation Z instead. 😉
It’s like I was a fish out of water the whole time and the world is only now converging to the era I truly belong in. Consider that investing, stock trading, cryptocurrency, financial independence, entrepreneurship, independent contracting, the rejection of conventional employment and formal education, the political battlefield being explicitly liberty versus tyranny, and other hallmarks of Adamas-Nemesis-ism, are all also becoming mainstream. The old world and its school-to-employment pipeline is already dead.
The mode of living that suits my sensibilities, and that has been preserved like a fossil in amber in the arts world I feel at home in, looks like it’s going to, in the fullness of time, over the course of the 21st century, prevail in the struggle for dominance with the old order and its precious institutions of credentialism.
That will be a real pleasure to see unfold. I’m not entirely sure what the bottom line of all this is, but know this much: if you’re smart, curious, and creative, but can’t stand school, there are others of your kind out there. I’m here. We’re here. You need not be trapped between the Scylla of “professional careers” and the Charybdis of “working with your hands”.