How Uneducated People Succeed
My professor said to see if a theme emerges from this. I must be honest and say I had one in mind going in and it was validated: education for most people is a tool: they need it to obtain a decent paying job. They can succeed without it, but that is the exception, not the rule. And successful, uneducated people usually value education and tell people to get a good one. So they won’t have to work so hard to succeed. I also knew that education is a paradox. The first drop- out that comes to mind is Rush Limbaugh, who was fired from many jobs. His daily talk show is now international, on short wave and armed forces radio. (He’s even broadcast on some of the stations that fired him). Yet he often says, “I was lucky. Don’t be like me: get a good education, go to college.”
Victor, a drug rehab councilor I worked with used to tell the students, “It’s a very different world today: you need education to be able to defend yourself against computers. It’s not- like the “old days” when you could make a living with a strong back.”
My "Uncle" Tony is director of the journalism program at Brooklyn College and said I’m wrong. I should teach my students that learning for learning sake is great.
I wanted to but could not because it’s unrealistic to expect that from high school kids today, especially GED students. You must be a “salesman.”
The mindset of education as a means to an end was very predominant at the technical college I attended in the early 90’s. It was more- subtle at Brooklyn College when I earned my Bachelors.
I think a primary cause is culture for a few reasons. Bing, a retired college president with two masters and a Ph. D. put the first one well: “This is the only country with derogatory -names for educated people. It started as book -worm. Then it -became egg- head, nerd, geek and dweeb…
“We have a nickname for them in Europe too…scholars. The problem with you Americans is you glorify entertainers and athletes who are merely entertainers.”
2) This was further validated when I was an undergraduate and Faith, my councilor said she went to a seminar and a professor griped students didn’t want to work. She said she told him he was under a misnomer: he thought they were there to learn. They weren’t. They only wanted to do whatever they had to pass the class and get a degree because it ultimately meant a better job, more money, and ultimately a better lifestyle.
When I taught GED my students were drop- outs, court mandated drug addicts and street kids who did not value education. So to help motivate them I employed a multi-prong approach. I explained that education is a tool. If you do not have another way to succeed such as professional athletic ability you need it.
I ask them what they think they can do to make a living. They come up and put different answers on the board. If a boy does not put auto mechanic up, I do. Then I tell them that mechanics now need to learn chemistry, physics and computers. I can’t do it. That’s why I changed majors. They are always surprised to learn that it is so technical.
For those with clean records I suggest the military because they give two dollars for one you put toward college, train you, give you free room and board while you get to see places people only read about. Plus it looks great on a resume to be a veteran. It opens many doors when looking for a job. It’s instant credibility. Employers love it.
There is always at least one student who says he can make it without education. I tell them that’s- true. But you still need it to keep from being “played” by charlatans like Don King and Sean Puff Daddy Combs’ (Rap Singer) people.
Sometimes I drew a staircase on the board and told the students that each step represented a level of education and a few more thousand dollars every year and many more over their lifetime. Because we are a very materialistic society I mentioned things like cars, clothes, etc., they could buy with that extra money. I did not have computers in class. So I could not show them on the inter- net. Unfortunately, none of them had computers at home. So they could not check for themselves either. I considered sending them to the library to check it out as a homework assignment. But I knew they would not do it.
Then I told them about John, a pizzeria owner in my neighborhood. He came here from Italy in 1960 when he was 20 years old. His English was very limited, but he worked hard to build a pizzeria and makes a lot of money. Unfortunately, he must work at least, six days a week and 80 hours to do it. Plus he cannot take two weeks vacation in a row because he must be there to help the run it, or hire another man.
He has a nice home in Long Island and jokes “it’s a very expensive motel” because it’s a “pit- stop” where he showers, shaves and sleeps. He spends much more in the pizzeria than home.
I say if you are educated you could make the same- money working half the hours and be able to enjoy the money. I make sure to enlighten them enlighten them to the hard, cold reality that we’re not assets to nurture we’re disposable, expenses to reduce. And education is a one -way ticket to anywhere they want.
I also share a little about my back round by saying it’s never too late to acquire higher education. I did not begin college until I was 30 because I ruptured a disc on the job and my boss hired two guys to do my job for less than I made. That was my reward for ten years of good work. There was no union to protect my rights and the American with Disabilities Act did not exist then. A strong back was my main skill and that was that was gone forever. But I was lucky: a freak accident saved me from a life of mediocrity. And God used it to trigger the metamorphosis that turned me from a caterpillar into a butterfly. But it is still a very long, tough haul, 1% talent and 99% hard work.
Unfortunately, my former colleagues were not as blessed: a few years later the company- sold the warehouse and moved to New Jersey to save money and trucking company went bankrupt. This left hundreds of unskilled and uneducated middle –aged people unemployed in a youth oriented society. I tell them that could be your “Christmas” future. That usually gave something to think about.
Jeanie, a colleague said something interesting to my class: “When I was 18 my mom made me go to college. I now have two master’s degrees.
“I also have a friend from high school who never went to college who was always good with his hands. He worked hard, saved him money and bought a small gas station. He built it up and after a few years he sold it and bought a bigger one. He was able to parlay that into a chain, which he eventually sold for a nice profit. Now he buys old houses, fixes them up and sells them. He makes more than I do as a teacher.”
Since uneducated people do succeed I decided to interview some. First I interviewed Lee, the owner of a local auto parts store and gas station/repair shop first. I choose him because he never went to college, but is intelligent and a fairly successful businessman.
He said, “I was a good student as a kid. I went to Catholic School up until eighth grade. Then my parents and I decided I should go to Brooklyn Technical High School. I did not go to college because I was working in my girlfriend’s parents’ auto parts store and was only thinking about being with her.
“I do not regret not going to college, but I often wonder what would have been had I done things differently.
“I own my own successful auto parts store for about 15 years and a gas station/repair shop for about ten.
“Although I never went to college I think education’s very important. I have five children and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their education so they won’t have to work as hard as I did. I worked many 14 -hour days, seven days a week and 100 hour- weeks to get my business off the ground. That’s why they all went to private schools.
“I was very upset when my oldest son, Vincent dropped out of college in the middle of his senior year.
“I was also very disappointed when my second son, Lee, Jr. flunked out of a private college after a friend “pulled strings” to get him in. He then went to a public community college and flunked out of there too. He says college isn’t for him and is working for me temporarily.
“I was also angry when my middle son, Dan’s teacher called to say they had a disagreement and he walked of class. I gave him an argument and punished him for it. He is graduating high school this term with good grades and plans on attending college in the fall.
“I am very proud that my youngest son, Carl is a straight A student in middle school.
Next, I chose Jack. Although he is not as- successful, he is upper middle class, despite being uneducated. He said, “I dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade because I felt I could be out there making money. I never even bothered to get a G.E.D. because it wouldn’t do anything for me, or my career.
“It took me 14 years to work my way up to co-manager of the small wholesale/retail appliance store I work in for the past 24 years. But I did it.
“I’m lucky: I make a good living; have a family and nice house in the burbs.
“That doesn’t mean I don’t value education. One of the reasons I moved to Long Island is the schools are better there. My -son, Matthew was starting school and I wanted him to go to good one. I want my children to go to college. I’m hoping my son gets a scholarship for left handed pitchers.”