Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

Decisions, decisions

Jen Hamilton of Ups and Downs and In Betweens wrote last night about her decision to quit school. Before I write about why her post resonates with me, I want to congratulate her on making a difficult decision.  I hope her friends and family support her.

I can relate to her writing on several fronts – I am in my fourth semester of a part-time college program. If I knew at the the time of application what I know now…

A couple years ago, the time was right to make a job change.  I’d recently become interested in rocks and minerals as my husband is a geologist and avid mineral collector. Why not get a job in mining?  The pay is great, there is a demand for people with computer skills… why not? Since the mining industry is in the “slump” phase of the economic cycle it was the perfect time for me to get an education so that graduation and the upswing of the cycle would coincide. I would have an “in” at a mining company AND a live-in homework helper.

The Mine Engineering Technician Program is delivered by correspondence, or as they call it these days “Distance Learning.” It is a two year program that includes two weeks of field school each spring. I applied, was accepted, and bing-bang-boom, was off to the races.

projectile motion

Credit: Google Images

Two weeks into the course I was overwhelmed.  The workload was insanely unrealistic. It turns out that the administrators decided to compress a three year program into two. For the most part, the material was easy enough, it was just the volume of work that made for a challenge. A lot of writing and essay style work, which I enjoyed. But the math! Like Jen, I am smart, at least I’m smart enough. What I hadn’t considered was the brain fog.  I’d look at the screen and all I’d see were squiggles and hieroglyphs. I’d tell myself, I know how do to these equations. I KNOW I know it. Why isn’t it coming to the surface? My brain was a sealed crypt with rusty iron plates that had to be forcibly pried open.  It was exhausting.

So, OK, it takes two to have a conflict.  I brought to the equation a tendency toward perfection, an expectation that I would get top grades, and a desire to please. The school offered a program and experienced staff. What they don’t offer is a curriculum that is up-to-date and meaningful. More than half of the course material is “filler”. I’ve posted a couple of my essays on WordPress, but that’s about all of the use I will get from “Effective Supervision“. A mine technician does not find herself supervising anyone, effectively or otherwise.

The pertinent course material, like surveying for example, is out of date. We are taught how to survey using antique theodolites. The college does not have the funds to equip the classroom with the units that they’d actually use in the field. During field school, we noticed the second year students working in the lower landing of the stairwell. We asked what was that about? It turns out there were two strands of wire that ran the length from top floor to bottom – that was the mine shaft. Seriously! This is supposed to be THE school of mines! Teaching students on an imaginary mine shaft!


Credit:Charles Shultz

The worst offence, though, is the errors in the text books, lectures, and handouts. It’s bad enough that I am handicapped by rusty synapses. It’s crazy-making and incredibly frustrating to spend half a day trying to solve a problem only to learn that there are typos or omissions.

Another complaint is the use of technology.  I’m grateful for the chance to study online. I wouldn’t be able to do the work otherwise. But the added layers of technology are time-consuming even when they work as they should.  Which, in the case of this program, isn’t very often.

What bothers me the most is that I feel used, or lied to. I’m supposed to get a technical education, something that will qualify me for a job come graduation day. This exact concern was addressed during a guest lecture given by a mine construction manager. He acknowledged that we are no doubt wondering, “Why do I need to study this?” or “What’s the point of taking that course?” He explained it thus: we are learning how to learn. Besides, he went on, we are taught everything we need to know on the job. 

Really? So, the point of this program then is… what exactly? Sorry, but I know “how to learn”. Teach me something meaningful and pertinent to the field, not how to jump through hoops.

There have been so many times in the last two years that I threw a tantrum and declared, “That’s it! I quit!” Then I’d shake it off and settle back down to my studies.

Why? Good question. My friends tell me to stick with it, you’ll be sorry if you don’t. My husband wants me to see it through. Will I regret it if I quit?

I will continue with the school work, out of inertia more than anything else. It fills the hours.

The one thing that I have learned: education is big business, and big business just wants my tuition. And Jen, if you had continued with your school work, you may have made the same discovery.

Categories: Continuing Education, Personal Growth

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9 replies

  1. “education is big business” – absolutely. And the thing that they’re best at is keeping themselves in business and marketing themselves as essential to your future livelihood — even if that means starting your ‘future’ with a staggering debt of student loans and not much to show for it. My stepson said: “a bachelor’s degree is like a high school diploma back in your day. It’s the minimum.” Is that because the quality of education has plummeted or great marketing? I have a hard time thinking that all the jobs out there really demand a master’s. Nothing like a real job to teach you how much you still need to learn.


  2. Hey Miss K. Thanks for commenting. Education as business is a bad policy. You and I both know that just about everyone has a horror story to share. For example, a friend’s husband is a high school teacher. He failed a kid who did not attend class and who did not submit work. When he was challenged by the principal “why did you give the student only a 33%?” he answered “Because. That’s the lowest mark you allow me to assign.” Come graduation day, the teacher was stunned to see the kid cross the stage with the rest of the students in the class. Following the ceremony, the teacher asked the admin person, “Why was this kid allowed to graduate with the others?” The principal overruled the teacher’s marks.
    It’s wrong on so many levels – the teacher can not take pride in his job, the other students are cheated and certainly no one is doing the no-show kid any favours.


  3. And there was a name for when we “learned how to learn.”
    I believe it was called GRADE 8!!!


    • And there’s the answer, isn’t it. Those in the *business* of education are setting the bar higher and passing everyone regardless of outcomes. The same friend noted above said that if you want to get attention on a resume anymore, you need a PHd. And this is for entry or just above entry level work.


  4. Sounds like my idea of hell. With insults as an extra bonus. Any woman in this day and age intelligent enough to do the course knows full well how to learn. How do they think we’ve equipped ourselves to be the quintessential multitaskers we are? And if your synapses are rusty in regard to calculating complicated stats – it seems they’re irrelevent anyway, so why bother?
    On the other hand, if you’re close to finishing, you might regret it if you quit. Only you can know!


    • Yeah, Helen, it’s been hellish all right. I am twenty to thirty years older than most of the students in my class. I have an entirely different experience and expectation of education. I am not getting what I expect. Which is why I wrote “it takes two to have a conflict”. I am considering my options – another course? (god forbid!) or maybe just find work close to home doing what I already know.


  5. Made me smile 😉 Love your phrase ‘it takes two to make a conflict’ 😉 I enjoy your posts very much.



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