“I wrote this song in history class. And I failed the motherfuckin’ class. …But we made a record, so, what the fuck.” ~ Mike Ness, lead singer/songwriter of Social Distortion, on the song “1945”
“As a society, we actually have not yet come around to the very sobering fact that getting a college degree, no matter the cost, is not necessarily worth it. […] Nobody has any more illusion that a company is going to do anything but look out for its best interest, and that its best interest can change on a dime.” ~ Alec Levenson, co-author, What Millennials Want From Work (read the entire article here.)
I’m a pretty big Social Distortion fan. Thing is, it’s not just the music in and of itself; it’s also what the music has become for me, as well as seeing how frontman Mike Ness has evolved as a person over the years. I love that he was destined for the gutter or prison — and spent time in both — but picked himself up and pulled a career together and became an icon for millions of fans around the world.
What do I tell my son when I play 1945 in the car for the first time, and he asks me, “So can I drop out of school and form a band?”
Or rather: Maybe, but not while I’m paying your bills. (That’s pretty much my default on any request — do what you want as long as I’m not the one who’ll have to pay for the consequences.)
Because the dad part of me and the Tax Paying Citizen part of me is like, “For god’s sake, you have to have a high school diploma. A two-year degree is even better, and a four-year even better still.” Not necessarily for job purposes, though that’s a big part of it; but because the more you learn in general, the better off you’re going to be in life. That’s all. Generally, the more education you have, the less likely you are to end up in the gutter or prison. (Although, hey, if you’re rich enough, you can break any law and not really suffer for it. I think we’ve all learned that in this nation, yes? Wall Street, anyone?)
At the same time…I hear Ness’s gravelly voice speaking to me from two decades in the past, and the other part of me is like “Fuck yeah, son. Just go do it. You’ll never need to know the square root of jack shit anyway. If you know what you need to do in this world, then go do it.”
Not only that, but how are we Old Folks supposed to, in good conscience, expect our kids in this day and age to take on $40,000+ in debt with no actual promise of a living wage afterward? That’s no way to begin a life.
Because of who I am and who I am married to, our family will pretty much insist on some kind of secondary completion for my kid, whether that’s a GED or high school diploma. We’ll also be encouraging post-secondary education, based on what my son’s inclinations and needs are (and, ahem, how much we can afford, which I do happen to know the square root of: Again, the answer is jack shit.)
But if there’s some other thing…some burning, white-hot desire he has to go accomplish Thing X…I don’t know if I can get in the way of that.
Mike Ness failed history class, but he made a record, so what the fuck. He does what he loves, on his terms.
Probably we would negotiate some kind of middle ground with our kid. We do want what is best for our son, and what is best might not always be in line with what he wants. Fair enough. But honestly? If he’s as smart as he sure seems to be already, and continues reading as much and as well as he seems to be, I don’t think there’s much to worry about. I graduated in the dead center of my class not because I was too dumb to do better, but because I was too smart for my own good. Smart kids aren’t always getting straight A’s — some of them are working in auto shops or building new apps or making new music or writing an directing plays. I was smart enough to learn how to game the system and get what I want. I don’t advise it, I don’t encourage it…
But Book #8 comes out in 2017, so I must’ve done something right. I “made a book, so what the fuck.” I wrote a play in my directing class, and I failed the motherfucking class, but I wrote and directed a one-man show that launched a theatre company that lasted 13 seasons, so what the fuck.
So. My official position as an author of novels for young adults (mostly), is this: Finish high school. For god’s sake, at least do that much. Not having a diploma or its equivalent is just a bad way to start your life. I do tend to believe that an undergraduate degree is a good idea, but not to get into an absurd amount of debt for it.
And in the meantime…if during all of that there is something you just have to do…then yeah. Go do it. School’s not going anywhere. I finished my undergrad when I was 40. Do I wish I’d finished earlier? Yeah. A lot. But I took risks — calculated risks — and wrote novels instead. (On that note, ask me how many schools will hire me to teach writing. Hint: Zero. Why? No degree. There’s always a trade-off.)
So yes, for my kid, I absolutely insist on finishing secondary education, and am 75% in favor of finishing a post-secondary/undergrad education. But man, if that metaphorical phone rings and your band gets a chance to tour, or your painting gets shown at a good gallery, or an agent wants to see more of your novel, or . . . whatever . . . then do it.
Make your record.
(Here’s a look at how Social D transformed over the years compared to when 1945 first came out.)