I was jolted by a friend's tweet last night. It said "I have learnt much in my life… but the biggest stumbling block to my learning has been my education!"
So it turns out, life is really one helluva choice, either of one jolly great ride or a damned permanent prison of sorts. Yet sadly you're pushed into a lane early on and can't choose one or the other, and the life skill and true awareness of which way to cast your informed vote always pops up on the rear view mirror of life … the wisdom notes arrive just about the same time with the delivery of your coffin - way too late for you to change much.
Social order is manufactured in the community factory and driven into our mental schema from childhood, such that we turn out as 19% of who we could be and 81% of what society chooses for us to be. The great group-think, structured less on the basis of positive stimuli as it is on the basis of fear and threats sets in soon as you pop out of your nappies.
In a depressed single lane environment such as ours, the absence of diverse choice, alternative routes to life endeavour, the deficit of effective role models or demonstrable success stories that are non-academic and just the fear to dare - forces our long enslaved parents to channel and force-march all their offspring into the bottleneck of education and academic pursuit. A very early impression is underlined to everyone: You're either book-smart or you're condemned to a lifetime of poverty! And yet only 14% of us have the natural aptitude for academic excellence.
I became a prisoner of fear and lost so many years of life I could have enjoyed because I wasn't gifted in books and had to rewind so many grades and every exam year! I know good friends and classmates who, 35 years later, still agonise and have JB Channon nightmares, sitting for that elusive mandatory O' Level Maths! (for which I too haven't the slightest clue how I scratched that ‘C'. At 54, colleagues still walk the streets with great apology, only for want of O' level Maths. How brutal can life be? It is only now, on very late hindsight that you realise just how you may have been supremely duped and captured by an overly glorified badge of honour they embellished as "education".
They chiselled and dovetailed you only for their purposes, fitting seamlessly into all your productive years.
Indeed you're the envy of the whole neighbourhood, your mom and dad walk tall and you rule the shebeens, when on graduating, you land that first job and see your full names appended to a pay slip entitling you to US$860,80 every month, if your three- month internship is accepted as relevant experience.
Your opinion on politics and governance on how best to circumcise a mosquito or indeed on women's underwear seems so "educated" and sacrosanct that no one dares question your authority. You are up at 4:30am for five days of the week to ensure you turn up prim and proper, exquisite etiquette at 8am in that little room - your office! For the value of $…/day, that office secures complete, uncontested access and control of your body, energy and uninterrupted thoughts until sunset, when you step back home.
The fact that you can access some company loan that enables you to buy a smallanyana car and ups your social status within your first 9 months of employment seems enough to compensate for the slaving hours - for even after work, your mind is pretty much conditioned, occupied with strategies for achieving those key result areas and out-foxing colleagues in the race for promotion. Your world is complete and you see nothing wrong with your daily grind because "you are educated" and that's how "educated people" go about life. Your "less educated", but street-smart buddies who kiya-kiya between their more flexible careers pop in and out of your grand office, pushing this and that in their "rese-rese" hustle. It is the only time they can see you since you may never leave your work station, whether or not you have real work to do. Your focus on your career is absolute. You consider yourself a professional and above the embarrassment of vending and hustling for that extra dollar.
Though you are struggling and sinking in debt, a little extra job that could generate meaningful income is below you and not an option out of your financial struggles. Your excuse - "Naah, selling was never my thing. Besides, I don't have the time."
You will earn loads of worker-of-the-year and 10-year loyalty awards, with the value a weekend's holiday in Nyanga and post your "success" across the walls of your lounge. Moving from this company to the next for a 50% upward shift in remuneration, companies will suck the years and the blood out of you, overworking and underpaying you, pampering you with piece-meal vouchers and non-strategic niceties. Mean and nasty bosses will spin your head and force you to prioritise work over family time. Your only available answer to them is a 24/7 commitment to work or that study leave that must get you an MBA or some other senior degree to qualify to equal the nasty master or get "a better life" somewhere. You will be back in class, struggling with theorems and permutations at 50! More education.
You will shun a starter-pack house in the township and struggle with bank loans to deposit a stand in the so-called suburbs only to keep up "educated" appearances. Building that house will sink you in further debt and push you towards retirement before you ever step into it. Once in, the harsh punch of rates, taxes, lifestyle patterns of suburban ilk will teach you the terrible habit of shopping for consumables, groceries, data, fuel, beer by credit card. Soon you retire, but the package will not so much as clear your debts, let alone push the four children through university. Stress-induced disease will soon set it and medical aid will be history. The attempt to start a business at 60 spells disaster. One error and its game over accompanied by heart failure!
My friend, Sifiso sent me this chilling piece of advice last week, a message that arrives 41 years too late! I can only pass it to my grandchildren. Education is important, but way overated. In particular that "I'm educated attitude" will leave you broke and sinking in debt. Street smart fellows will "park" those degrees, make money early, start some entrepreneurial endeavour at 26 and make faster headway in life. It allows so much room for experimentation and failure .
Graduates out there, be open to the idea of selling stuff from the boot of your car (ohh, your dad's car). Be ready to do any job, no matter how your peers or society think it undignified. Do not suffer the "what-will-people-say" disease. Do not be a prisoner of your degrees. Until you make your big break, make every job yours. Often when that big break comes, it is hardly related to the glorified qualifications. So do not let your qualifications stereotype you into thinking that there's only one route to make it in life.