Linda Clark-Borre

GED for College? Interesting Idea...

03/11/2012 13:43


Woohoo, now here is an interesting column from today’s Chicago Tribune that piqued my immediate interest:,0,6116617.column

Clarence Page opens his article with this:

Could millions of college dropouts get a second chance through a GED-style equivalent of a college diploma? In today's age of blue-collar blues and online education, the idea of college-equivalency exams doesn't sound so outlandish anymore.

Raises an interesting question, doesn’t it, to add to the many questions surrounding the ridiculously rising costs of college versus its value in today’s changing workplace.

Well, here’s the short version of my story to consider before each of us takes the question on in his or her own way. Mr. Page opens with an interesting question indeed.  If you are going to be a doctor or lawyer (as two professional examples) then it is unlikely that a general pass on a degree of any sort is going to serve either the student or the public.

Then again, perhaps some of us are so limited in our thinking that we can’t imagine alternatives where others just might.

I dropped out of high school in my junior year to give birth to my magnificent daughter, Tamara. I was 17 years old and considered myself to be a grown and complete woman.  For many reasons I figured motherhood would be as good a way to define my being as any other besides the time-honored vehicle of my association with a man via wifehood. I was truly one of those sad examples of a woman who defines herself primarily via her attractiveness to the opposite sex. 

Well… to use a Confucian phrase, my mind proved to be restless and turbulent, as difficult to subdue as the wind.  And so the day came I almost literally wandered into a GED test opportunity at a local junior college and, weeks later, was informed I scored in the upper 2% of the population and was now considered as educated as a most other IL high school graduates. I was shocked. I would have put myself in the bottom 25% easy.

I took a few junior college classes. I remember my very first paper ever: “An Application of the Ideas of the Existential Theorists to the Changing Status of Women.”  Junior college revealed to me the fruits of long lonely years spent reading all sorts of things. The A’s came easily, so easily I could hardly appreciate them. If I could do this easily, then how could it be any good?  At that stage of life,  I was suffering the unfortunate malady nearly always associated with the attractiveness dependency: the problem of low self-esteem.

 I was swiftly bored, left formal studies aside, and settled on licensure by the state of Illinois to become a “special needs” foster parent, which I loved and did for seven years.  I made the incredible discovery that I could not help others learn without learning a great deal myself.  As I researched my foster sons’ problems and tried to love them into a new state of being,  I wrote articles and papers about self-development, one of which earned me a regional American Mensa Education and Research Foundation Award.

Eventually I returned to junior college classwork, got bored again, and stopped going when the scholarship money ran out.

I entered a career for which I was uniquely qualified thanks to years of negotiating with physicians and other providers to keep my developmentally disabled children alive: selling pharmaceuticals to physicians.  The company I worked for offered to pay for my bachelor’s degree, so I begin studies at Northwestern.

I finished several classes, and remained frustrated for two reasons.  First, although my income was at the level of the top 5% of women nationally (not too terribly hard to accomplish, sadly) I was not intrigued by the prospect of a business undergrad degree. I was living a wonderful education in that regard, and doing just fine.  I began a communications track, where the young students’ focused on how much money they would earn in the future. They looked up to me and openly envied me my position in life, as I tried to explain how my priorities were changing. I warned them to be careful of a life of earning beyond their potential to be motivated to learn and to do other things, a concept no one understood at all, and admittedly is hard to explain.

Eventually – being always taught by graduate assistants became the final straw for me— I stopped going to Northwestern, kept working at a career that accepted me as I was anyway, started publishing again on such topics as life, business and healthcare leadership… and received promotions that I foolishly allowed to move me “beyond my potential to be motivated to learn and to do other things.”  Work substituted for life until, finally, years and years later, I woke up.

I am reborn and now able to move to present tense writing and life.

On a whim I approach the crazy, bigger-than-life geniuses at the University of Chicago to hear my plight. One of the Deans invites me for coffee at a little place on Michigan Avenue to hear the crazy lady’s story. I want a degree, but I want it to represent me and everything I love. I want it to be about social thought, and art, and the universe; I want to study pain, suffering, and lamentation. I want to be conversant in Greek history, and grasp some nuance of an eastern hemisphere I have studied but know far too little about.  I want to learn about Everything, and nothing in particular. I can’t explain it.

A group of scholars (crazy larger-than-life-can-hold types) considers the evidence of my lifetime and decide I can be admitted,  albeit on a probationary period that ends after I prove myself the first year.  Many, many long research papers later, and after the most fascinating classes imaginable with professors and students who properly put me in my place re: everything I do not know, I graduate with a Masters degree. As I present my final, qualifying research project results, I am stunned to see the great Professor David Bevington, world-renowned Shakespeare scholar, in the audience. I tingle when he raises his hand and steel myself until he finishes his question to me: "Do you feel if more were willing to examine the features of a complex lifetime as you have, the world might be in need of fewer psychotherapists of the type so many depend upon these days?" I tell him yes, of course, in the way that if more of us spent time with Shakespeare, we'd probably find life a little more comprehensible, and possibly find more forgiveness.

These days, we are so brilliant, yet so ignorant. As TS Elliott wrote, too often we have the experience / and miss the meaning.

What is education? It depends. My degree was never about qualifying for a job; it is the kind that makes you realize that in your hopefully long life you will find yourself asking more questions than answering them, and what is most important is that you surround yourself with the people with whom that particular journey is meaningful. Your alone-ness ends, esteem of self and others grows as promotions and acquisitions take a lesser place in your life.

Damn, that’s the beauty of an education you see, however you acquire it. It takes you to a place you never knew existed, once upon a time. There are so many is the life path that is ours, uniquely that matters; we as individuals have only to consciously claim it.  To the extent we can and do, we are all but guaranteed that any world we are in will look, feel and actually be better for the energy we are able to bring to our days.

Our bodies get older, but the mind is an active thing, as restless and turbulent as the wind, and must be nourished suitably.

So, as we/society hopefully consider Mr. Page’s provocative notion, let’s understand at the outset that as the world changes, so must we, and perhaps there are more avenues to the personal utopias we each privately seek than we realize. There are many pro/con arguments here, and many will be tempted to reject Page's notion out of hand, but I hope we don't.