I attended a meeting this morning with 25 highly educated, well-dressed women. The woman sitting next to me had a master’s degree in international studies. Three women behind me were about to graduate from the University of Texas with their teaching degrees. So why did we gather? We applied to be substitute teachers. And what were the requirements? A high school diploma or GED and no criminal history. Rest assured, if your children have substitute teachers, they are in great hands.
For me, this raises a question. Why are so many highly educated women vying for a job that pays $10 an hour, provides no benefits, and offers little, if any, respect? I walked into the school thinking I would be one of the best qualified candidates, but after filling out my application and a questionnaire, I left in a near-jog, knowing I probably didn’t even have a chance at this, a job that requires no advanced education.
I answered each portion of the questionnaire with a sentence or two. Why did I want to be a substitute teacher? How would I handle misbehavior? What would I do if the teacher left no lesson plans? I completed the entire application and then looked up. Most of the women hadn’t even looked at their applications. They were still scribbling furiously to finish their questionnaires, writing what appeared to be dissertations on their philosophies of substitute teaching. My mind flashed back to high school, when I would write essays spewing forth hundreds of facts and dates, hoping somewhere in the muddled words the teacher would find what he was looking for. Had I just failed the essay portion of the exam?
Having spent many months looking for a job, I have become convinced that our society is too educated. Sure, medical jobs and postions in engineering require a lot of training, but for most professions all you need is a high school education and a few months of training. We attend college and earn graduate degrees en masse, but when we are finished, there are very few jobs that require the sort of advanced training we have. So we apply for jobs that require far less education than we have, and we’re told that we are overqualified. Even if we find jobs that do require advanced training, we often recognize they shouldn’t because they won’t even come close to using all of our skills and talents.
Universities teach us to analyze the religious symbolism in James Agee’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” and to decode the philosophy of Friedrich Nietsche. But I think they would do us a greater favor to teach words that will help us find employment: Do you want fries with that?