Category Archives: Our Generation

Edu-shmay-tion, or What I Never Thought I Would Say

My name is David I have over-competitive disorder. Sometimes, it can be a problem. Girls are not too impressed, for example, when I tell them that my three brothers and I used to compete to see whose ears produced the most wax when our Dad (a pediatrician) would bring home his newfangled earwax-extraction devices. In my defense, the competition was usually down-to-the-wire, edge-of-your seat entertainment. You might not know, but it is sometimes hard to predict earwax quantity.

Hmmm, this is by far the quickest I have veered off track in a blog post, but please stick with me. I need your help at the end of this post. And what I want to say is, I am currently in the running for an important competition to be the biggest nerd in our apartment. I am proud to say that I’m still in the running despite some………

formidable competition.

I have been grooming my nerd pedigree from an early age. I was a Library Helper in elementary school, took meteorology as one of my “electives” in middle school, and competed in speech and debate in high school. So, you can maybe understand why the sickness that has descended on me for the first time within the last few weeks—-that deadly pandemic known to some as ‘senioritis’—-is so disorienting. College juniors beware, if it can strike me, it might be able to strike anyone.

I don’t much care what grade I get in my Russian History class or my Chinese Writing course. I might spend more time complaining about writing papers this semester than actually putting pen to paper. And my attendance at Tombs Trivia might be better than my attendance in class.

And that might be a good thing.

Let me stop here and ask you to do me a huge favor: watch this video. It’s eleven minutes long (so…about 10:45 longer than my attention span). But I was hooked and could not stop watching. I think you will be too:

(FYI, I saw the video for the first time on a guest post on the blog of James Fallows).

The video is like some superchild creation of Bill Nye and Hans Rosling, and there’s a whole lot of ideas packed into the ten-plus minutes. But, here are the interesting points that stuck out to me:

Schools are a Recent Invention.

The narrator explains that before the nineteenth century, the idea of an education factory, or what we call a school, was very rare. Compulsory public education for children arranged in batches according to ‘date of manufacture’ simply did not exist. I imagine, then, that when formal education did occur (particularly for elites), the curriculum was far less standardized. What seems normal about schools might have seemed very, very strange not too long ago, and this is one compelling reason to question the current education structure.

Creativity is Fragile.

To see why, start the video at 7:40 and watch the section on ‘divergent thinking.’ It made me think of what school is typically like for me. Just today, I took a very routine test. And here was the process: memorize the IDs and write down as fast as you can the what, the when, the where, and the so what? for each term. Add a few fancy words, a comparison to another country or the present time period, and a nice-sounding conclusion, and  guess what? BAM! I will pass the test, forget the information, and move on to cramming for the next quiz. And that is success. I’m not sure I learned much, and I’m positive that I created no new knowledge or new understanding.

We Have Internalized the Consequences of our Current System.

Schools promote a false division between ‘academics’ and ‘non-academics,’ and the result is, to paraphrase the video, very demoralizing for lots of people. Perhaps closer to the truth is that all of us possess a constantly changing combination of multiple forms of intelligence (i.e. emotional intelligence, artistic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, spatial intelligence, quantitative intelligence), and that the vast majority of us can improve in even the areas that we currently flunk. For me personally, I have always done pretty well in school, but that likely has more to do with my competitiveness than my actual intelligence. In short, GPA is a crummy and even pernicious measure of smarts.

OK, so where to go from here?

The entire modern education system is not going to change anytime soon.  But what I came away from this video thinking is,

Take initiative. Do not export the responsibility for learning to your teachers and your school. If you want to understand or master or innovate within a field, then sign up for a public course. Join an online forum. Rent a great introductory book from the library. Talk to a person who knows more about it than you do. Ask to help out with a neighbor as he repairs his car. Don’t worry about making a fool of yourself on your first painting. Try learning one type of computer programming code. Whatever it is, don’t let the lack of a formal course at school on that subject stop you from mastering it.

I say ‘you,’ but this advice is really for me. Because like I said, I have a bad case of senioritis. The nice thing, however, is that I have a lot more free time now that I am doing less studying to do things like write really long blog posts. So now, I suppose it is time to make use of my free time and start learning….

And so: the challenge.

I’m looking for suggestions of what to learn—-and you need to help me.

In the next 10 days, if 10 of you readers leave a comment with a suggestion of a hobby to try, a book to read, a place to visit in DC or anything else that you recommend, then I will choose one and give it a shot.

And then I’ll write about it on here. (But there has to be 10, so that I don’t get stuck reading The Iliad or learning how to competitive speedwalk).

You endured an 11:00 video and a very long post and made it to the end.

Now, it’s your turn to contribute.

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Transition Anxiety

Graduation, high school edition.

It is the end of the first week of my last semester of school.

For the past handful of months, I have been dreading graduation. When friends or family or anyone for that matter has asked if I am looking forward to graduation, my head tends to instinctively shake from side to side, my eyes start rolling, and

I say, “No way…the only thing I’m good at being is a student.”

Before high school graduation, I did not experience any of this angsty anxiousness. I looked forward to college–to the “best years of my life” that my parents had waxed on about during many a family dinner. But this time around, it seems different.

Now, in my head (or I should say in the one month ago head of mine), I equated graduation with 1] my parents cutting off the strings of financial support; 2] separation from most of the friends that I have met throughout college as we all go our separate ways across the globe; and 3] a ho-hum, 9-to-5 job.

But I’m starting to warm up to this whole graduation idea, starting to realize that life can be great even when not bracketed by syllabi and finals.

The change was mostly mental.

After fourteen more weeks, my life as an “official” student will end. But when I get done with my courses for this semester, I will be free to study what I want when I want. Not all “learning” costs upwards of $17,000 in tuition each semester. This semester, I am taking Russian History, US-China Relations, Geopolitics of the 21st Century, Chinese Literature, and Fitness Swimming. I could learn about Geopolitics from a few good blogs or an Economist subscription, learn about Russian History with a public library subscription, learn about U.S.-China Relations from a conversation with a friend, and learn about….well, you get the point. Most learning costs nothing at all.

The second point–missing my college friends–is a more stubborn mental speed bump. I will miss my friends a lot, but graduation this time might actually be easier than it was the first time–when I left Washington State for Washington, DC. I still remember trying to ‘man up’ and hold back the tears when, after hanging out with my best high school friends for the last time, I popped a burned CD into my car stereo and this song, chosen by one of my good friends Brooke, started playing. My attempt at toughness failed when Eddie Vedder got to the second verse:

my dreams suddenly seem so empty
i could go on my own, but i feel like playin’ dead
and for what feels like the first time
i don’t know where you are tonight
i guess that this is goodbye

But after the song got over and I boarded a plane the next morning, Vedder was wrong: my friends actually did know where I was. It’s easy–easier than ever before, dare I say–to keep in touch with long-distance friends. I have even grown closer with some friends from high school since graduation. I expect it to be the same way this time around.

High school amigos

And last: the job.

It doesn’t help that not too long ago I read And Then We Came To The End, a book that makes office life seem about as enjoyable as being a Syracuse fan. But then, more recently, I read another book. It is an affordable and accessible book that I have already mentioned once before but I can’t help but mention again: The Art of Nonconformity.  I read it on the bus rides to and from work each day for a while. I would read a few pages, and those few pages would almost always get me thinking about how what Chris was saying fit into my life, and then BAM, I was at work. So it took a while to finish, but it was well worth it.

It turns out, a job is what you make of it.

If I’m unsatisfied with a class at school, I tend to switch out. If I’m unsatisfied with a book, I tend to stop reading it. A job is no different: in fact, the consequences are often worse if you don’t quit. The years of lifelong, fixed employment are over. The average twentysomething will work seven jobs throughout the span of these ten glorious years. If I’m unsatisfied with my future office environment, either I will look for opportunities to improve it, or if that seems impossible, I will search for a new job. Don’t settle. Your job is not just a way to fill up the weekdays and pay the bills until the weekend (finally) arrives. Your job should engage and challenge and bewilder and fascinate you.

As for me, I got my first job offer earlier this week, and while I am still not sure if I will accept it, I do know that it is the type of job that would definitely pass the Devon Test. So would my other top job options. Graduation will come in May, and the next phase will be even more unpredictable and exciting as the last.

It’s the same way for any major transition in life.

Maybe you are about to enter the married life and worried that you will miss bachelorhood more than a 6th grader misses recess. Or maybe you are about to have your first kid and you can’t stop having nightmares about dirty diapers. Perhaps you are about to be an empty-nester, or about to switch jobs, or about to retire. You and I both can’t escape the about to‘s.

Instead of dreading the transitions, latch onto the mindset of a wandering hitchhiker and allow yourself to enjoy the ride. Allow yourself to constantly search, experience, and evaluate new places, new people, new books, new foods, new ideas, new hobbies, new arts, new sports, and new lifestyles. This way, life will never be dull. Better yet, the nostalgia for some past life stage will be outweighed by the excitement for current life.

On May 21, 2011, at 6:00 PM on Healy Lawn, commencement will commence.

Hooray.

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Filed under Life, Our Generation, School, Work