Adventures in Adult Education

I graduated college in May of 1998. In the 14+ years since that glorious event, two things have happened which may have rendered me a less than ideal candidate for adult education. (Or “continuing professional studies” as the purveyors of adult education appear to prefer to call it. Or “CPS” as the over-users and abusers of acronyms amongst the purveyors of adult education insist upon calling it.)

The first of these experiences was one that repeated itself month after month for ten full years after my halcyon days at Notre Dame: Yes folks, I’m talking about paying off my student loans. You see, somehow I managed to attend college for four full years without entirely comprehending that I* (intentional asterisk) was going to need to pay for it. No, it wasn’t till I attended my student loan exit interview and was supplied with a schedule detailing exactly how much I’d owe on exactly which day of every month for the next decade of my life that reality set in. At which point I did what most people do when they get bad news that’s arguably their own damn fault: I got angry at someone else, in this case, professors whose courses provided little value and/or were bad at their jobs: The Biology 101 class that I slept through! (In my defense, I had mono, and Biology 101 was my fifth class in a row on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.) The ridiculous Processes of Mathematic Thought class that I took as my second science requirement because, when I was conscious, I hated Biology 101, and let’s face it, I wasn’t exactly on the fast-track to becoming a doctor! The International Law class I took with the inept professor who gave us assignments that required trips to the law library even though none of us knew how to use a law library nor had law school IDs, which were REQUIRED TO ENTER THE LAW LIBRARY! (She recommended that we wait outside the door till someone left and slip in behind them. Seriously.) You mean I was PAYING for all that shit? And I was going to continue to pay for it for the next 10 years of my life?? Good lord!

The second experience was simply the experience of getting a little more experience in this here thing we call life. I didn’t graduate college with a whole lot of expectations about How Things Should Be. In fact, to the extent that I had some ideas about How Things Should Be, I assumed they’d be kind of shitty. I mean, at least for awhile, right? Because I was 22 years-old, and the only thing I knew was that I didn’t know my behind from a hot rock. So I kind of took the world as it came to me, which involved putting up with a decent amount of crap. But that’s okay because crap is what shapes a person, right?? (Please tell me I’m right!) It wasn’t till about age 30 that I finally felt like I had enough of a handle on things and had experienced enough to put my foot down sometimes in personal and professional situations. Life used to be about coping with things; now it’s about dealing with them. And that’s a freeing way to feel.

And so, armed with … well, let’s just call it maturity, I decided a little over a year ago that perhaps it was time to go back to school. I wasn’t interested in anything that would result in a worse job and more debt than I had before I started it. (In my case, that would be a Masters Degree in pretty much anything.) But you know, some adult education. Perhaps something artsy. Flex my right brain a little. I’d been having a lot of fun with my iPhone camera, so I settled on a photography class. Classes at the International Center for Photography (ICP) cost what I assume is approximately the market value of one’s first born, but they promised excellent facilities and (the deal-maker for me) a loaner DSLR camera for beginners, so I signed away my womb. The first class session was excellent. It’s possible the session was excellent because my instructor arrived prepared to teach it. It’s certain that subsequent sessions were enormous wastes of time because my instructor failed to prepare for them. He also lacked the temperament for teaching. I mean, I get it: I don’t suffer fools particularly well myself. But I’m not being paid to suffer fools. My favorite moment with him was when he barked at a classmate who dared raise the point that she was having difficulty getting her assignments done because he wouldn’t email them to us until a day or two before class. He was VERY BUSY, you see, and he DIDN’T HAVE TIME to put the assignments together. With the message thus sent that we really didn’t rank terribly competitively with his other priorities, I pulled the plug on the experience. My money was already gone, but there was no need for me to continue spending my time. (I’d call the class the worst first-born I’ve ever spent, except that I did end up learning that I love photography. Still, I can’t help but think I could have gotten the same result from Groupon-ing a beginners workshop.)

So yeah. My first endeavor into the world of adult education left me with a brutal hangover, and I hadn’t felt even a hint of desire to go back to that particular bar. That is, until recently. I was looking for a Photoshop class somewhere — anywhere! — other than ICP, and yadda yadda yadda, I ended up enrolling in a Basic Drawing class at Pratt. A flurry of emails followed: My registration was confirmed! The school sent me a list of the materials I needed to procure! The instructor sent me a list of the materials I need to procure! (I have no idea if the two lists are the same; I’m going with the one the instructor sent me.)  A Welcome to Pratt email arrived with my Pratt OneKey and urgent instructions encouraging me to submit a photo for something called a PrattCard! “Your photo is a vital part of your Pratt ID card,” the email emphasized. “Students MUST submit a photograph of themselves at least one week prior to arrival on campus.”

Well, crap. I signed up for this class only 7 days before my arrival on campus, and I didn’t get this email until 5 days before my arrival on campus. I’d better get moving: “Please review the information online at [web address] for how to provide a suitable photograph.” That sounds easy enough. I click the link expecting, you know, “We must be able to see your face.” “No nudity or vulgar gestures.” Maybe, “No hats or sunglasses.” What I found were 10 different requirements: “No shadows allowed on either the subject or the background.” “Taken in front of a plain white background and free of patterns, objects, or textures.” The piece de resistance? “File image size of approximately 600 x 600 pixels.” So I attach my gray background-ed, 200 x 200 pixel work ID photo and click upload. Because give me a break. If you’re going to be that specific about your requirements, you need to take the picture yourself. One hopes they’re ticking off a litany of crap hoping people will comply with at least half the requirements. One can’t confirm that this is the case because one does not yet have her PrattCard in her possession. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Where was I? Right. I upload my picture, and a splash screen thanking me for uploading my picture appears. Terrific. Now what? I sit there staring at my computer for a few minutes until I decide that nothing is going to happen. I grab my phone and check my email. Nothing. I look around the page and see a link: Obtaining your PrattCard. That sounds promising. I click the link, and it contains all manner of information about things that happen after you’ve already obtained your PrattCard. What if I lose my PrattCard? What if my PrattCard is stolen? What if my PrattCard is damaged? What if my PrattCard turns into a majestic wing-ed equine beast that flies off into a fairytale? All nice to know, but not what I need to know, nor what the link promised to tell me, which is how to obtain my PrattCard. It, like everything in life, was starting to feel like a Seinfeld episode. Fortunately, I’ve spent enough time on terrible websites that I knew were to go: Sure enough, back on the “Submit Your ID Photo Online” page, beneath the hilarious multitude of photo requirements: “To receive your PrattCard, please stop by the Brooklyn or Manhattan PrattCard Office at your earliest convenience.”

We’ll skip over the part about it being unlikely that they’re creating two PrattCards for every student, thus enabling them, as the information suggests, to stop by the Brooklyn OR the Manhattan office at their earliest convenience. And then we’ll skip ahead in the story to the part where I stopped by the Manhattan office at a time that really wasn’t convenient at all, only to learn that my PrattCard was not available. And now we’ll skip back to the moment in time when I read this information and thought to myself, “Okay. Where is the Manhattan PrattCard office?” I’ll tell you where the Manhattan PrattCard office is located, according to the not-particularly-helpful box on the PrattCard homepage titled PrattCard Office: It’s at the “Manhattan Campus in Room 502.” I’ve since learned that the Manhattan “campus” is a single building on 14th Street and not a “campus” in the traditional sense of the word, so the location information was not as utterly absurd as it appeared at first blush. But still, you can’t provide a simple address? Presumably, if I’ve not yet obtained my fucking PrattCard, I am new to your institution and not yet acquainted with the location of your “campus.”

So I google the address and decide that it probably would not be wise to attempt to obtain my PrattCard at “my earliest convenience,” but rather at the latest possible time before my class begins to give the PrattCard people the largest possible window to produce my PrattCard. (Because, I should note, the Manhattan campus PrattCard office does not have a phone number listed, thus negating what would otherwise be the obvious strategy of calling ahead to ensure my PrattCard would be available.) I check the hours, and I see that the office is open Monday to Friday, from 10a.m. to 1p.m. and from 4p.m. to 6p.m. “Alright,” I say to myself, “I’ll plan to get there a little before 6p.m. on Friday night.”

And that’s what I did. I got on the fucking subway at fucking rush hour, surrounded by people who wouldn’t take their fucking backpacks off, thus taking up twice as much fucking room as they needed and annoying me with their mere existence the entire trip from Rockefeller Center to 14th Street. I locate Pratt’s “campus” and head up to Room 502. The door’s closed, so I ask a woman sitting at a desk nearby if it’s possible to obtain my PrattCard. She informs me that the office is closed, and I should come back when they’re open, from 10a.m. to 2p.m. on Monday to Friday (or whatever she said). I tell her that’s not the time that’s listed on the website, and the breeziness with which she responded that “the website must have the wrong hours” was really a little alarming. Like, she was by no means even slightly surprised that the website had the wrong time. Almost like, “Of course it had the wrong time. What were you thinking trying to come when the website said the office was open. Silly girl.”

I’ve never been clear on the definition of patience. Is it, in fact, the ability to actually BE calm? Or is it just the ability to maintain an outward appearance of calm? I possess boatloads of the latter, but not an ounce of the former. My insides felt like that 4th of July show in San Diego where all the fireworks went off at once, but I managed to keep it together: “My concern is that I’m not going to be permitted to attend my class on Sunday if I don’t have my ID card. The email I received was pretty intense about the importance of obtaining one’s PrattCard before arriving to campus.” Her response? Laughter. And then: “They never check that thing. You only need it if you have to print something.” [Again.] I confirm with the security guard as I’m leaving the building that my lack of a PrattCard will not prevent me from attending my class on Sunday: “Oh no!” he laughs pleasantly and gestures toward a sign-in sheet on the desk. “They’ll just make you sign that piece of paper.”

Moral of the story #1: I may never obtain my PrattCard. Because I don’t remember when the girl told me the PrattCard office was open, and I don’t have any intention of ever printing anything.

Moral of the story #2: I may not be cut out for adult education. It’s too expensive to be this annoying, and I have too much to do to be wasting my time on anything. I will, of course, still go to my class on Sunday. My instructor seemed lovely in the short, but genuine note she attached when she emailed the supply list, and I’ve read wonderful things about her online. But good lord. We are not off to a good start here!


* Remember that asterisk way the heck at the beginning of this post? The one where I was talking about paying for my college education? In the interest of honesty and genuine gratitude, Mom and Dad carried the large majority of that particular load. I just picked off the federal loans at the end. They totally rock for that reason and for about a million others, as well.


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