I Refuse to Drink the Kool-Aid
When I was eight or nine, mom took me to register to play football with a local youth team in San Antonio. I remember feeling nervous at the idea because I never liked playing sports. My earliest childhood memory is that of a five-year-old boy whose first sport was soccer. For a long time, I thought I was an all-star because — like most people — I had awards that filled an entire trophy case in our living room. I later discovered in pictures and mom’s recollection of events that I was, in fact, the kid who was at the back of the team daydreaming about God-knows-what! To come to think of it, I might recall mom yelling, “Andrew!” I went by my middle name back then. “The ball is that way. Run, boy, run!” I’d look up and see my team halfway down the field. Of course, no one ever revealed how uncoordinated and useless I was when it came to playing sports until later in life — albeit, by then, it was no longer necessary. I was glad when I showed up at the registration table for football, and the roster was full.
My sister, Jenny, on the other hand, was going to be the next Doris Sams. In the Summer of ’96, Jenny played baseball on an all-male team because I refused to play the game — ultimately putting me to shame because she was knocked out twice by fast balls that busted her nose and nearly fractured her hip. But, she didn’t allow that to stop her. I eventually had to get off the sidelines or succumb to more humiliation. That’s not to say that Jenny couldn’t be better than me. It just wasn’t socially acceptable.
Truth is, Jenny was better than me in a lot more ways than sports. She was better at math and science, for instance. I just happened to prefer reading and writing — although I blame it on all those long hours trying to memorize my vocabulary in grade school. Mom’s husband once asked in frustration, “Son, why don’t you like football?” He desperately wanted a quarterback for a son. I didn’t have an answer, though. My response was fumbled. I told him that it gave me a headache. It ticked him off, and he might have tackled me.
What’s interesting about this story, is that — while I’m sitting in Fenwick Library — I’m thinking about how many times I’ve tried to pursue my undergraduate education and have repeatedly come up short. That is to say, I’ve probably dropped my classes at least 20 times in the last seven years. Conventional wisdom would most likely be that I should stop wasting my time. The closer I get to 30, the more I realize it wouldn’t be bad advice. A colleague once told me, “Joe, I believe you’ll be a good writer one day. You might even have a few bestsellers, but there will always be something missing if you don’t finish your education.” She had a point. To her, the idea of not finishing my education was unfathomable. We’ve heard it all before about how not going to school limits one’s opportunities, college graduates — on average — out earn high school graduates, and the statistics are even more disconcerting for those without a high school diploma… yada, yada, yada.
I don’t intend to justify being a college dropout — I suppose that’s what we’ll call it. So, I’ll tell you right up front: I absolutely hate college. That fact that earning a bachelor’s degree has become more of a check-in-the-box and badge of honor than evidence of one’s intellectual growth and ability frustrates me to no end. I refuse to be part of an age-old system that continues to place emphasis on a liberal arts curriculum, which should be taught in high school. I remember enrolling in Honors Biology 101, and the instructor informing the class that it was the same course that we should have taken in high school, except at a higher level. For one, I had no interest in learning biology — except for practical reasons — and two, what a waste of my time to have to repeat a course that I should have taken in high school? Why wasn’t it taught at a higher level then? In another example, I enrolled in a Music Appreciation course to fulfill a general education requirement in the Arts. It was bogus to be forced to sit in a class for three hours (from 7–10PM no less) to do the same thing I could have done in my bedroom with the radio on — listen to music and ask my girlfriend to quiz me on the instrumentation. I withdrew and failed that course twice as a result. Finally, and for good measure, I was recently enrolled in Interpersonal and Group Communication. The instructor insisted on busy work. We were asked to keep a journal, but how many times can you write about perception, culture and diversity, and dialectical tensions before realizing that being a competent communicator is about being unassuming, listening, and open to diverse thoughts and experiences?
I mention all this because I’ve decided to sit on the sidelines for a little while. Perhaps I’ll return to finish my education when the Kool-Aid is sweeter or when I find that some life opportunity can’t be pursued because I don’t have that piece of paper. I’ve never been one to follow a traditional path in the first place. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today if I did. I used to think that I had to finish my education to catch up to my peers — many of whom have master’s and higher degrees — but I’ll still be that kid on the wrong side of the field and at the back of the soccer team. And, when they least expect it, I’ll be like Jenny and let nothing stop me.