Is school worth it?
I've just started my second quarter at Santa Clara University and the month long break for winter quarter has given me ample time to reflect on my current path.
The question of whether school is worth it is something I've been asking myself a lot recently and I don't think there's really a clear answer one way or the other. For the time being I have decided to hold out until the end of this quarter to figure out whether it's actually worth it before I (possibly) drop out. Once this quarter is completed though, I hope to have made a decision. There are a number of things to consider.
School is expensive
It goes without saying that a college education these days is prohibitively expensive. To add to what is an already high cost, I'm currently enrolled in a graduate program at a private university, which means this already high cost is even higher than average. The per-quarter-unit cost for graduate students at SCU is roughly $928. That means that my tuition per quarter is a whopping $9000 dollars (10 units * $928). That's roughly $4000 per month of instruction.
That's a lot of money. That's enough money to buy oneself a decent used car once every three months. That's enough money to live for a year in Thailand. That's enough money to travel around for a while. It's real, tangible money.
School is really about alignment with the establishment
I'm going to get a bit philosophical here, but I don't really believe 'right or wrong' answers exist. Thoughts, ideas, etc., are all constructs that the human mind produces. There is no physicality to rightness or wrongness, it does not exist except within a human's consciousness. This means that correctness, in my view, is merely a matter of opinion.
School, however, tends to dismiss this notion. A teacher will say to the student "of course there is the right way to do something, and there is the wrong way to do something". And is it little surprise that the right way just happens to be the way the teacher does it?
I find that school really just exposes individuals to the establishment's model of the world. It introduces the individual to the establishment's definitions and grammar. Does this mean that it's 'correct'? Well, in this case the establishment will be 'correct' due to a tautology. Namely, anything the establishment says will be correct because the establishment prints the books which say that the establishment is correct.
School tends to stifle creative thought
School does not result in free thinking or liberality, it results in alignment with the conceptual models used by the establishment. I only say this to counter the trite statement one often hears that 'school makes an individual more open minded'. In my estimation it tends to do the opposite. Classes are designed to do this by giving a student an A grade for alignment with the establishment (close-mindedness) and an F when the individual isn't in alignment.
School does provide an appealing conceptual model
Having said all of the above, this conceptual model which school provides is an appealing one. Maybe it's the case that a flawed model is better than no model at all.
Computer Science is also a field of study where the 'conceptual model' carries more weight than it does in other fields of study.
This is because computers are completely man-made contraptions. The 'conceptual model of a computer' (ie, what the establishment teaches about computers) very closely matches the implementation and structure of an actual computer. This is to contrast with other fields of study like the natural sciences. Take Biology for instance. Theorems in Biology attempt to model reality (a theorem will attempt to model a biological phenomenon; it attempts to explain why a phenomenon occurs). To contrast, with computers the physical reality of the computer (i.e. the machine itself) was made to match the model. The conceptual model of a computer came decades before a computer was ever built. The biological phenomenon however may have existed for millions of years before man ever walked the earth, so modeling reality in this case tends to be more difficult.
Because of this, studying Computer Science at a university is likely going to give me some valuable insights into the inner workings of a computer.
Two more months
In conclusion, is alignment with the establishment a bad thing? The answer is 'maybe not'. It's very remunerative to be in alignment with the establishment. Additionally, the institution's grammar can be used as a medium to express complex thought with other individuals (this ends up being a shibboleth which benefits only those with the means to attend school, but that's another story for another day).
The real question is whether I'll make back the money I've invested in school, and whether I'll find the conceptual model valuable. I won't be able to determine the former for another decade or so. For the latter, hopefully I'll know by the end of the academic quarter whether the insights are valuable to me or not.