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I Almost Regret My Master’s Degree


 We cook by sight, but we eat according to taste. Any ordinary cook knows well that taste and sight go together in preparing and partaking of food. Imagine you are cooking dinner, and the spaghetti sauce is found to be lacking in taste; it’s uneventful and flat. It needs a bit of salt and pepper and a substantial amount of oregano. Shuffling through a drawer, you find the oregano and pop open the lid. You smell the strong, nearly pungent odor that confirms it is indeed oregano. Both your eyes and your nose confirm that truth, and so you begin to add seasoning to the sauce to taste. 

 Now imagine, you are cooking spaghetti sauce and noodles. Upon inspection, you find the sauce lacking. Rifling through the spice drawer, you come up with oregano. You pop open the cap to add to taste, choosing not to check the spice with your nose. You mix in a great deal and then serve your three children spaghetti. Come to find out, it was not oregano, but ashes you mixed into the sauce. Your five year old used the jar the day before playing around the fire pit. Instead of confirming the spice was in fact oregano, you wholly trusted the label’s self proclamation: I am good.  

 Similar to the anecdote about oregano, it seems to me the classical education renewal movement has a double standard. It attempts to center itself on something lost in broader Western culture: wisdom and virtue. However, the people in most positions of authority are the ones with the most letters after their name, (as a principal with a master’s degree, I am no exception). Acclaim is often given to the lettered. Just like the oregano, classical schools across the country are applying the visual standard with too much trustworthiness, and they are letting students be the taste-testers, and the students cannot taste the ashes. This does not mean the wise go wholly unrecognized. Rather, the filter typically used to measure the man or woman is inconsistent with the core of the movement and the ideals it seems to uphold.  

 I doubt Plato could even get an interview today. 

 Higher education graduate programs are always connected to an increase in teacher salary. Teacher raises are given for new diploma-based letters first and excellence second. This is exemplified by the fact that most teachers find it hard to figure out how to increase their pay outside of another degree or certification from the local state university. Furthermore, schools unwisely think that a particular degree equates to a particular pay. Of course training in a specific subject can help someone teach, but it is not required at all, and it does not necessarily mean that it will. A graduate degree is not like a water hose. If you turn a hose on, you get water. If you complete a master’s program, you do not necessarily get wisdom. The gross underbelly of most classical schools is the honest truth that most teachers do extra degrees for the pay.  

 The educational benefit, unless it is a degree closely related to classical learning, is more residual than most people ever acknowledge. A majority of teachers do not want to acknowledge the true reason for seeking the degree: honor and money. Seeking honor and money in this manner is probably foolish and definitely in contradiction with what we are doing as teachers. The classical renewal movement ought to acknowledge that pride and an increase in salary are the chief motivators in graduate degrees. A teacher at a classical school —worth their salt — knows where wisdom is found. They know how to be worth more to their students, and it is not found among the refuse of the state school’s Master of Arts in K-12 Education.  

 Pride, like an increase in pay, plays a major, hidden a role in the pursuit of a master’s degree or a doctorate. I, unfortunately, did my master’s degree for pay, esteem, and knowledge. I was easily caught up in Western culture’s form of assessment, recognition, and acclaim. Most importantly, I do not think my graduate degree made me any wiser, regretfully. This does not mean those programs do not exist, but they are few and far between. Connecting public honor to the degree ladder, which wider American culture does intentionally, has produced a classical renewal movement that does the same, a renewal movement that has not wholly shed cultural values and reset its foundations on wisdom and virtue. While there are many people with an M.A. and Ph.D. that are excellent teachers full of wisdom and exemplifying virtue, we cannot treat the degree like an infallible test. A mere glance causes us to automatically and unwisely regard the letters as a signifier of virtue and teaching ability. Hard-working people get graduate degrees, an admirable thing. Hard-working people, however, might also be woke rather than wise. Yet families and schools alike fall for the trap. Doctorates and master’s degrees are not the measure of the man. Across my years of teaching, I have seen families defend teachers with more letters simply because they have the letters. I once had a teacher tell me that they were (woefully) getting a doctorate for the “status game.” He is no exception. Schools have got to better educate the families and faculty on the true goodness of classical education: wisdom and virtue. Done well, honor will be given to whom honor is due, and it will not be automatically given to those who paid for it with time and debt.  

 Lastly, if classical schools more cautiously approached graduate degrees, a lot of us teachers might be out of some pay, but we might be made all the wiser and more honest for it. So, what if in the next interview, your administration stopped asking: what school did you go to, and instead they asked: what does this proverb mean? 



1 thought on “I Almost Regret My Master’s Degree”

  1. I really enjoyed the way the ashes and oregano connect with discerning character and wisdom in our educators. As a third grade teacher at a classical charter school, I appreciated my principal asking the question, “aside from your degree, what makes you valuable to this institution?” I answered with something like, I have the quality of being teachable and a desire to grow along side others no matter their age. Good to see you on here Travis, I really like the work this site is doing.

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