Why I Want to Be a Perpetual Student
I began thinking about this after I left a coffee date with Melissa. She and I used to volunteer together as co-teachers with a creative non-profit leading creative writing workshops for middle school students after school. We had been discussing the egregious disorganization of several professional organizations we have to deal with on a regular basis (I’m looking at you, Army) and how the prevalence of disorganization and incompetence doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. All of us were told “Things’ll be different in the real world. Accountability . . . blah, blah, blah.”
‘Scuse me? What accountability, where?
I have to say, I’m kind of disappointed. I’m disappointed with “Real Life” in general — I really wish we could all go back to the days of the old school yard. If you’re looking back on your school days and thinking I’m crazy, get real. School was easy compared to “Real Life”. Here’s why:
Consistency was never an issue
On Monday morning, you drug yourself out of bed and off to school. You showed up disheveled for first period and meandered through until lunch — which was at the same time every day — and then you meandered along until the final bell rang. You may or may not have had after school activities, but either way, you had an after school routine. You went to bed at relatively the same time every night (for me, this was around 2:00 or 3:00 AM). Then, you did it all over again until Friday afternoon, at which point, you thought you were going to cut loose over the weekend. Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. I’ll bet whichever way you went, you did the same thing every weekend, and come Sunday night the cycle began again.
Summers were just a variation on the routine. You slept until 10, you watched X, Y, and Z on TV, you went hung out with friends or messed around on LiveJournal til the wee hours of the morning and then slept until 10. All Summer. Then Fall came, and thus began the school cycle once again. You always knew when things were going to be happening, when you were going to eat, and how to go about budgeting your time. And the whole time your parents and teachers were telling you to enjoy your freedom because “Real Life” was nothing but rigid schedules and deadlines.
Give me a break — when was the last time you made a deadline, hmmm? Furthermore, when was the last time you were given a deadline that didn’t change? Or how about a consistent work schedule? Or a daily routine? What I wouldn’t give for six classes a day and a bell to tell me what to do. As for accountability, it went like this: If a student didn’t do their job, they failed. If a teacher didn’t do their job, they were fired. As an adult, if you don’t do your job, you’re fired — unless you are the boss. In that case you can do whatever you want and your employees suffer. They aren’t able to do their jobs well, you get mad, and you fire them. Lame. See why I like school better? I like clear rules and consistent follow through.
Friends were easy to make and readily available
I know this one is going to be hard to swallow for you outcast types, and please don’t think I am downplaying your social struggles. I know that school was a social nightmare for a lot of us, myself included. It’s hard being a kid. But the nice thing about school was the fact that you at least had a fighting chance of finding and making what I call “organic friends”.
Organic friends are grown in lunchrooms, playgrounds, sports teams, academic clubs, and group projects the world over. You are stuck with hundreds of people for hours and hours five days a week. Conversations are had. Common ground is identified. Friendships are born. The best part? You have 180 days for these things to happen, so friendships are born and grow slowly and naturally without the pressure and false pretense of “networking”. It just happens or it doesn’t, and sometimes it doesn’t. That sucks — but you know what sucks more? Having social issues in the “Real World”, where your options for friendships are Work, Church, and The Internet.
Suppose you don’t have a job. What if you are an atheist? That leaves The Internet, which in my experience breeds what I call “Inorganic Friends”. These are people you meet through places like Craigslist and Meetup just for the sake of making friends. While I have had some success with this sort of thing, for the most part I have found it to be shallow, forced, and generally awkward. You can live in a place for years before you have any luck with this sort of thing.
I guarantee you, even the most awkward and outcast teenager among us had at least one friend in school. If you didn’t you are either lying, a heinous asshole, or a psychotic episode looking for a place to happen. You know it’s true.
People were assholes
This one seems kind of outta place, huh? Not really. See, I remember crying to my mother or various guidance counselors over the years when the kids were mean to me. I was an outcast too. I liked Elton John. That alone was enough to get me tortured day in and day out. Then there was the LGBT advocacy, the semi-goth attire, the huge vocabulary, and the fact that I was too broke and too fat to wear whatever was the latest fashion — I’m surprised I never got shoved into a locker or thrown into a garbage can.
Thankfully, I had quick wit and awesome friends to my credit. Still, there were days when the asshollery got to be too much. I would go through black periods of chronic depression, and the adults would start telling me about the “Real World”. “Oh, you’ll be appreciated in the real world.” “You’re so smart, you’ll do so well in the real world.” “This is just school — kid’s stuff — people are different in the real world.”
Um, no. People are assholes. School is just a condensed microcosm of the “Real World”. People might grow up — some of them might even change — but most of them stay the same, and they’re still doing the same shit at 40 that they did at 14. Don’t believe me? Have you seen reality TV? While everyone kept telling me about the “Real World”, I should have been watching MTV’s version the whole time. Then I would have known the score. At least in school, you had your pals to lean on. Now, unless you are incredibly lucky, your friends are far flung and you can’t just cut out of work and pal around the coffee shop when you’ve had too much. It sucks.
You had 6–7 hours a day that were totally yours
This might not be true for everyone, but it’s definitely true for me. I love school, and I love learning. After school, I had a whole lot of shit to deal with, but when I was at school I was all about me. I worked hard because I wanted to. I was responsible for me, myself, and I. I didn’t have to worry about family, church, boyfriends, children (which I didn’t have then, but do now), friends, or work. Sure, I might have thought about those things — I might have even dealt with some of those things at school. But more likely, if I wasn’t doing classwork, I was reading a book or otherwise indulging in something I cared about.
School was an escape. I was good at it, so there was no pressure. It was my safe place. I used to fantasize about living in the school for crying out loud. Now we have jobs, bosses, kids, families, pets, demanding our time, energy, and attention. I thought school was stressful. Please. I didn’t know what stress was. It’s hard to be stressed when the magnitude of the word “overdue” has not yet entered your consciousness.
If I loved school so much, if should come as no surprise that I love teachers. Sadly, you’re surrounded by all these really great, really intelligent people for a few years, and then that’s it. Game over. The only way you will ever be surrounded by that much intellectual power again is if you enter education and/or academia yourself. Otherwise, if you choose to maintain a relationship with a teacher or two, you’re that weirdo students who never moved on. At least, that’s what I’m afraid they’ll think. There I was, up to my eyeballs in ersatz parental figures, then I graduated and that was the end of that.
There is the consolation that it’s not so strange to maintain a relationship with your college professors, but I was never as invested in any of my professors as I was with my high school teachers. Mrs. Burney? Mrs. Takken? Mr. Seymour? Mr. Belcher? Mr. Dixon? Mrs. Causy-Largacci? Mrs. Brady-Jones? Ms. Jones? My God, this could go on all night. The point is, they were saints. All of them, saints. There were twice as many that I didn’t name, and they were saints too — but now I’m some kind of weirdy if I want us to be pals out here in the “Real World”. That sucks.
I had once hoped to attain my teaching certificate so that I could return to the womb-like comfort of school. I would once again have the consistency I so crave and I’d be one of the initiated, so it won’t be so weird if I started emailing my old favorite and most revered instructors. After all, a fledgling education needs her mentors, yes? But alas, I believe the reality of the situation is that while I would probably make for a decent enough teacher I would get burnt out very quickly and find myself spat back out into the “Real World” all too soon.