What does it mean to be “over-educated?” That’s what I wondered yesterday when I saw two articles on the #OccupyWallStreet protests going on now in New York.

David Talbot wrote the first in a Sunday piece for Salon.

“‘Like everyone our age, we’re overeducated and unemployed,” said Patrick Bruner, a 23-year-old native of Tucson, Arizona who recently migrated to Brooklyn. Bruner said that he and his fellow protestors were prepared to “hold the Wall Street square for a long time.”

Yesterday the Guardian posted the second. Marisa Holmes, of the protest-planning group General Assembly, tells the UK paper:

“We are the over-educated and under-employed. Our future has been totally sold out. Politicians have failed us and the square is somewhere where we can speak out. This is the beginning. It’s direct democracy in action.”

I was feeling philosophical about language (that is, procrastinating on a deadline). What would be the evidence, I wondered, that you were over-educated? Smarter than your parents? Too smart? Doesn’t seem plausible. The generation just out of college has done some cool stuff, but it hasn’t cured cancer. In fact, a few of the ones at the protest thought Ron Paul would make a good president. Have they confused educated with anti-establishment?

Of course you probably already guessed that the point of education is to get you a job, especially during a downturn. But if all it means is “un-” or “under-employed,” sorry but why say over-educated AND under-employed? If they’re so well educated, why the redundancy?

I couldn’t find an email address for Patrick Bruner, so I emailed Marisa Holmes to ask her what she meant. She wrote:

“I was trying to convey the fact that there’s an entire generation of young people who have college degrees, are burdened by debt, and can’t find employment.”

Ah. Read: overcharged.


Joel Whitney

Joel Whitney is the author of Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World's Best Writers. A 2003 winner of the Discovery Prize, his work has appeared in the New York Times, The New Republic, the Wall Street Journal, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. His essays have twice been notables in Best American Essays.

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