“Terrible Student Gets Ph.D.”

I was interested to read a post by my grad school colleague Donald Leech, at his blog Long Slow Run Through History. Don is now at UVA-Wise, and took a rather circuitous route to get there. If you were to speak with him, you would notice his English accent, but I did not know the rest of the story:

I scraped entry into college on my test scores… I went with a friend to the University of Arizona, 2,000 miles from home, and with no study habits whatsoever. I had a lot of fun that year. I failed almost all of my classes, and came home.

It’s a bit of blur for a few years after that. A semester at Eastern Michigan resulted in trips to the Wooden Nickel bar rather than to class. A year at Wayne State resulted on some passed classes and a lot of dropped classes.  Meanwhile, various jobs paid the bills while I lived in Detroit. I did get a certification as an Electronic Technician. This allowed me to work for a few years repairing equipment at gas stations. It paid pretty well.

Then I got married. First we focused on my wife finishing her degree. Then I went back to school at a good small liberal arts college (Madonna University). I graduated with honors while working 45-50 hours a week. Finally, I had done it!

I regret none of it. It had been my own story, my own adventures.

I have students now who struggle, who drop out, who fail. I understand that some of us take a more winding path. I wish I had known then that I wasn’t failing, really I was just better and happier not in school. I was living life in different ways. I hope I can help some of my students find the path they are to follow, to accept that path, and to make the most of it. For some it is finding the course of study they love and to pursue it – their parents may not like them taking History or Theatre, but it’s their love, their life. For others it may not yet be school. They may need to explore a different path. Even if it’s just for a while.

More at the link. I fully agree with the idea that just because you’re not good at school, doesn’t mean that you’re “failing.” Not everyone is cut out for college, and it would be great if more people realized this earlier in their careers, left and done something useful or at least properly compensated, and returned when older, wiser, and more motivated. My profession has an interest in encouraging as many people as possible to go to college (and to incur massive debts in the process), but I have never liked this scam aspect of American higher ed.