Schooled for Life?

Schooled For Life

Reading this article in light of recently graduating from college, I considered the validity of this statement:

“[Schools] teach us everything other than the two skills that really determine the quality of adult life; knowing how to choose the right job for us and knowing how to form satisfactory relationships. They’ll instruct us in Latin and how to measure the circumference of a circle long before they teach us those core subjects: Work and Love.”

Do you agree with this statement? I do, and I don’t. Here’s what was running through my mind.

Did elementary and middle-school classes show me what career path was right for me?

Perhaps not the curriculum directly, but when I think about it, that time in school provided me important lessons: how to listen (or the consequences, and sometimes, the benefits of not listening) to authority, how to build relationships, and how to work in groups. I learned to read and to think more critically, to problem-solve in my head, and to take pride in my work.

I was schooled by the definitions of alliance and enemy, cliques and social circles, whether or not I knew the actual words at the time. Experience became a teacher then, and these were lessons that continued on to high-school, even sadly, college.

In high-school and college, did my classes teach me directly how to survive in the work world?

Not that I’m aware of – I have yet to encounter a job application that asks me to recite the entire photosynthetic cycle of plants, label every branch of the dinosaur phylogenetic tree (never again),  or recall the exact date of composition for a John Cage piece. I studied some facts that I just don’t believe will aid me in the near future. For instance, the short-tailed shrew holds special glands in its mouth that produce poisonous saliva, equipping the animal with a protective shield while also aiding in food acquisition (way too much information, I know. This information would only come in handy if I ever encountered a shrew or competed in Jeopardy – special small mammal edition – which is unlikely. Not improbable, but highly unlikely).

College classes did not illuminate certain life skills, such as how to balance a check book, manage a bank account, and file taxes, but a little well-versed Googling (a skill that college did equip me with) and calling people that know more about it than I do – can help with that.

Instead, these past years of school indirectly instructed me on the value of discipline, work ethic, and time management. I learned how to process a large amount of information in a short span of time (procrastination at its finest), how to multi-task effectively, to lead a violin sectional, and to talk to a professor when I needed help. I learned important lessons about life and love, about forming relationships and then letting go of some, both good and bad.

I had two majors in college: Music was my “impractical” major, and I chose Biology for what I perceived then to be practicality. Biology interested me, enough. I did well, enough, in the classes. But now, I realize I lacked the passion for it that could’ve fueled a whole different area of study. I’ll be honest though. I was not a student that poured hours of study into Biology; I could’ve done much better in my classes, absorbed the information to a higher extent, Music on the other hand was another story. Nevertheless, I wanted time with friends, time to sit in a coffee shop and read, to play Bach in a practice room all afternoon, to go on a hike, to write letters. I needed that time to live life.

To be honest, I’m not sure yet whether I will end up following either major. I may end up doing something completely different. College classes did not necessarily instruct me on a future career path. College, as a whole, did.

Would I have known what job was right for me when I was in elementary school? I don’t know. How could I have known when I’m still unsure of what job is right for me now? I think we have an unabashed ability to dream big at a young age, and I think that’s wonderful. It’s something that I feel we tend to lose over time. What if we dreamed at a greater scale throughout our education? Would that help us more with job choice, with satisfactory relationships?

I was asked recently, on an exit interview, if I had any advice for incoming freshman. At the time, I rattled off some things about checking your degree audit, not being afraid to say no if you are juggling too many activities…the usual. But I thought about it for a long time afterwards because if I had to do it again, here is what I’d tell myself:

Don’t always strive for perceived practicality.

Take a class that you never would’ve considered before: a class that scares you, or one you’ve always dreamed about taking. Sign up for an art class, or one on Russian literature, poetry, or Portuguese. Or don’t. It’s alright. Take the time instead to learn something that can’t be taught in a college class, take the time for yourself.     

Classes alone cannot teach us to live fully, but school, as a whole, can help us realize what we hold important. Finding meaningful work and establishing solid relationships are lessons that I know I’ll be continuously learning throughout life, and I’m thankful for these past years of school that have provided me the opportunity to start exploring.

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