Saturday, August 15, 2009

a mess of thoughts

Summer fireworks are wonderful.

A Restful Country Life

Not so much, today. I drove a little over two hours to the nearest "big city" to meet a potential Japanese teacher and go to Mass for the Feast of the Assumption, which meant I got up at 6am. Ugh. I have not been a morning person for several weeks now, although I had a brief and fun run of it in the spring and early summer, when the sun was rising early but the air was still tolerably cool and dry.

Japanese Language Proficiency

The meeting with U-sensei was pleasant, but something that's been nagging me became clearer: what will I do with Japanese after this? It may be a result of where I live and its distance from most everything, or the fact that they usually teach true beginners or intermediate level, but U-sensei and the other teachers were all saying, 'Ah, your Japanese is great already; what else do you need to study?' At work I often get the opposite vibe: 'This is unintelligible and you'll never acquire natural Japanese.' Anyway, though, I showed U-sensei some of the documents I work with and chatted about work and wanting to use Japanese in a non-English-teaching job in the future.

Then the nagging thought came back-- even if I had perfect Japanese, what kind of work can I expect to find in Japan without a degree in business or computer science or finance or engineering? Furthermore, as in the US, the papers say Japanese college grads are having a terrible time finding work.

I want to learn more languages, and see some more countries, but not at the expense of forgetting Japanese. I've already forgotten most of two years of college Mandarin. Yet if I'm ultimately unable to use Japanese in a profitable career, perhaps it's best to move ahead quickly with other things.

The Global Economy

Quite a number of college grads are in a similar, floundering situation, I believe. Part of the reason is the economy, sure. Another part is academic inflation. A college degree means (or meant) a higher salary, so more people go to college, more colleges spring up, academic fields diversify, school administration staff burgeons, and pretty soon you have an expensive degree factory instead of an institution of higher learning. Kids are encouraged to study whatever they like, because it doesn't matter what kind of degree they get in the long run. In the meantime, degree-holders have become a dime a dozen.

Especially now that the job market has become so competitive, many idealistic B.A.s find themselves at a loss to explain their skills to potential employers.

Why wasn't marketing on that list of general education requirements?

The Future

The next generation of students will eventually be forewarned to go after practical, marketable skills, and the variety of dreamy-creamy majors will decrease while fields like medicine, engineering, law, and business see growth and higher competition for admittance. These students will also have to learn to compete for jobs with overseas peers.

I'm hopeful that this will have a jolting effect on K-12 education, and that US kids will be challenged to go far beyond the current expectations of standardized tests.

As for my generation, though, I think a lot of us will have to either get smart or get lost. We aren't on the same cut-and-dried job-hunting field as our predecessors, and we need to learn how to deal with that.

No comments: