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7
Dec

Smarter

Have I mentioned enough how rare my opportunity is here? I have probably shown time and time again that, unlike most people, I don’t believe even what I think. I believe through research and comforting, warming numbers, a hollow pursuit that inevitably leaves me questioning how reliable any statistic I find may be anyway. Everyone knows what old Mr. Twain said; to paraphrase: there are three types of lies, a regular lie, a boldfaced lie, and statistics.

Still, I have nothing else, so, it is just that which I bring you. The clearest way for me to convey how outrageous that it is that I am studying in Japan is to first remind you how fortunate I am to even be pursuing education after my high school graduation. I shared my childhood with a handful of friends who didn’t go, went but dropped out of, or haven’t yet gone to a college, four-year or otherwise. I also have friends who had the money, the family stability, the desire, and the maturity to start and continue an education. I guess most of my closest friends are in the latter group, making my experience an incredibly inaccurate portrayal of American life. I fear that too many people who did get the chance to or be around those that did acquire a Bachelor’s degree don’t realize how relatively uncommon graduating a four-year university is.

Only about a quarter of Americans 25 years or older have done it, according to the American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. More precisely, in 2005 the number was 27.2 percent, a substantial bump from 25.9 percent a year before, but, still, that hardly makes my chance to study anything I want at the respected Temple University in urban Philadelphia. Sadly, I think too few people realize how truly special a college education is. I mean, really, ask yourself, if someone asked you yesterday, would you have thought that just one in four people over the age of 25 graduated from some accredited college?

Not surprisingly the city of my affection has a rate below the national average, about 20 percent, and far below the country’s so-labeled best-educated city, Seattle, where about half of its population 25-years or older has achieved a Bachelor’s degree or more.

Some might ask what all that privilege really means. Well, to a realist, it means a better chance at financial security, a worry of many people. College graduates earn an average of nearly $2.1 million in their lifetimes, almost twice as much as those with only a high school diploma, according to the same Census Bureau data.

Now, while money usually improves the more standardized education you receive, and accepting that college educations are becoming more common, though still surprisingly infrequent, there is a fear that the quality of that education isn’t what it has been, or, some say, should be. According to a Washington Post article printed in December of 2005, an adult literacy assessment that was published earlier that year showed that the reading proficiency of college graduates has steadily declined in the past decade, without much explanation.

While the details present specifically troubling results, the overall message is bleaker still. Of college graduates tested, only 31 percent were classified as “proficient” in reading and writing, nine points lower than 1992, according to Michael Gorman, the president of the American Library Association who spoke to the Washington Post.

See, this brings me to my pure point. Education is rare, and the educated getting the most out of their education is rarer still. This is what I am trying to do here. Will I be among the third of college graduates that are “proficient,” when I graduate? I hope so, and, while living in Tokyo doesn’t directly make me a better reader, or a stronger writer, or capable of scoring a better grade on an SAT exam, I like to think it does make me a lot more aware and even a little smarter, in the word’s vaguest definition of simply alert. We all can appreciate that reading John Milton or quoting Alexander Pope aren’t indicative of having a monopoly on intelligence. There are a lot more valuable and helpful things to be good at, and understanding how to live happily is not the least of them.

It is in that way that living in Tokyo will make me a better person, just as being given the good fortune to study at the collegiate level has. It is that much sadder that only a few percentage points of American college graduates, who are just a quarter of the U.S. population, will get to study abroad. Not all rare opportunities are beneficial. There is no inherent correlation between the two, but studying abroad, as I have said and written and about which I have foamed at the mouth, is an example of when the unusual and the useful collide.

Jaa ne,
Christopher

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