July 13, 2008

Education as Equalization.

When one begins to consider the track of her life, one can only come back to a single question: how can I become equal to the task that is, that will forever be, my life?  I know when I was young, it seemed unfathomable to me how one would know how to do things correctly, successfully, as an adult. For instance, how would one get money to pay bills or buy food? I did not quite comprehend the connection between working and money. I knew people worked "for their living", certainly, but just how did that work translate into living. The notion of growing up was really frightening to me.

I suppose now, at 55 years of age I can say I get it. That doesn't mean I am any good at it. Seems that one of my deficits has to do with money. 

Really, not a joke. I have an intellectual deficit when it comes to comprehending and using money.

The one fascinating thing that has helped me most as a female epileptic has been the socializing, equalizing benefit of a college education. Sure, it didn't teach me how to overcome my deficit with money, but I do have a better comprehension of it than ever before and, I can admit to my intellectual deficit for what it is, recognize it, and adapt. 

College isn't an event, a professor told me. It is, instead, a process. You can access this process at anytime during your life. It doesn't have to occur at the end of high school---it can come when you are much older than that. In fact, as a former president of the Non-Traditional Students Organization for Chapman University, I can tell you with certainty that less than 50% of all college freshmen are "traditional", meaning that they come directly from high school with no break in between. So, a majority of college freshmen belong to the category of American adults who engage the educational process later in their lives. This makes them able to handle the challenges well and it makes them more likely to dedicate themselves to the process they have engaged, to maximize its benefits.

I know from personal experience. It is true. I wanted to succeed and I did it! Now I have a B.A. and I have re-engaged the process to pursue my Master's degree at the same school. 

College affords us tools we wouldn't ordinarily have. It allows us to achieve without the pressures of competition. In school, competition is only with yourself, unless you inform others of your grades, no one knows or has the right to know. So, you are only competing against yourself. 

It is a unique situation. It gives you time and space to breathe, to read, to learn, and then to incorporate what you have learned in a way that will make sense to you and serve you. 

Education allows one to network. As an alumni, there are connections you can use to find work, get housing, etc. 

But, more than anything else, it arms you for the rest of your life. Your degree or degrees belong to you alone. They are testament to your work and fulfillment of requirements. They give you an equal footing with non-disabled in the work place. They afford you a means to become socialized within a community of scholars before you take on the community of workers.  This enables you to grow stronger, to have a psychological toughness from the experience of knowing you can take on a complex task and succeed at it.  For example, my "psychological toughness" comes from being able to refute, if only to myself, that I am not intellectually inferior because of my E... And yet, it allows me to be fearless or at least less fearful of the residual deficits I encounter that are a part of my E.  I am, as an educated woman, able to assess my condition, communicate it more effectively, and understand myself better. 

This has helped me immeasurably. 

From my perspective, it is vital that as many disabled as possible attend college. There are a million ways to approach it, whether it is by community college first, then transferring to university... But, the one thing to keep in mind is that it is a source of power we cannot do without. If you are out of school, reconsider going back to school... if you are in high school, make plans to go on to college. 

Each of can use the extra armor higher education will provide. Take advantage of it, go for it! Allow yourself the advantage of a an equitable opportunity in society. The world is waiting for you to make your contribution-you have it in you to give!

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