Late for a Plane
This is a fictional writing experiment…
I was rushing to the airport. It was one of those rushes where you knew you should have gotten up a little earlier, but not by much, where you thought with reasonable circumstances you would arrive to the gate as the plane was boarding, perhaps just as the plump first class and priority passengers waddled down the causeway.
So perhaps it was not a real “rush,” but any chance for a relaxed ride to the airport was cast aside, hoping the cab would move just a little faster, and hoping that the kiosk would be free and the security line would be thin. Hoping beyond hope that you picked a line full of Asian or German business men, sliding their Sony laptops out of Hugo Boss attaches in a single motion while twirling their Armani blazers around a pair of laceless loafers and gliding through security on a thin cloud of elegance, experience, and cash.
And yet, for the first of the unravalings of the day, the line chosen was less than ideal, but far from worse. Glancing about, I did notice the line I had wished for, the light from a high skylight tinging their experience with the glint of the heavens, stars bursting from Gucci shades, washing the calm river of business dress in light. I had also noticed the hellish line in the other direction, behemoths of girth returning from a midwestern vacation. Unkempt children slowing the process, bags of trinkets clogging the scan boxes, and a litany of accessories to be pealed off and stacked. Their mood was a mixture of disbelief in the degree to which they had to disrobe as though they had forgotten their earlier flight, and understanding that, “yes, this was necessary to keep the terrorists at bay.”
Somewhere farther back in this procession, two lines must have been zippered together, adding a disaffected debutant to this mix, requiring the mother to call past her, and back to her children, in order to keep them in line. She could care less, buried in her expensively covered iPhone, tapping a way at texts while the line inched forward. Nor did it concern her how much time she took to unbuckle her high heals, free her arms from its many manacles, and shed the many other superfluous and metal things from her body. The trappings of her conspicuously consumed outfit seemed to lose all their enchantment when trapped between the aforementioned family, oozing its way though the economy class security line. About this irony she was clearly unaware.
My line, as with many of the events thus far, was just slow enough to be annoying. I could hardly fault the elderly couple in front of me. Their shock and dismay at the indignities forced upon them, moving at their own pace, gave me pause to consider that slowing down might make this whole adventure more relaxed. However I had a plane to catch, and I wished this old man would move a little faster, though I agreed with his general demeanor. His body language announcing to the world that if he had to remove his belt, he would put in back on with the same care applied that morning. His visage harkening to some old flight of his younger days, before such hoops were placed in his way, when he could whistle to the stewardess for a scotch and slide a dollar into the pocket of her polyester skirt.
After the first of many eternities, the security station vomited me out into the inner sanctum of the airport. It was safe here, and I could be confident that no terrorist would bother me while I browsed expensive perfume and watches at the duty free shops. But such browsing I would not enjoy, quickly walking past the shops and overpriced food to be transferred to the gate.
Only after turning the corner onto the newly constructed promenade did see the beginings of my next obstacle…
On Daily Writing and Education
So far so good on the “daily writing habit.” I’m rather impressed with myself having started using Lift to encourage a set of daily habits. One of the goals is to write for at least 30 minutes daily. Some times I have a topic, or something specific to a blog entry or project. Sometimes, like today, I don’t have much. So I turn on some alpha wave binaural beats, set a timer, and fire up Byword.
I decided this morning that to keep my self more or less accountable, and at the very least gain some feedback, I’ll post most of the writing to this tumblr feed. If I know it will becomes something larger, I’ll save it.
The Topic at Hand
Today I’d like to discuss the state of education in the United States. This is for two reasons. Firstly I recently saw an informative documentary entitled “Race to Nowhere” specifically on high pressure and homework. Secondly, my daily morning routine largely consists of reading, studying Spanish, and then writing. (Which kinda sounds like school?)
I think it’s safe to say that the system is rather broken, in fact, that has been said for some time, with little done in the way of sweeping, transformative change. I can only offer my own experience and opinions on the subject. I don’t think it rather too unique but there are a few noteworthy events that have shaped my view of “education.”
- I attended a highly engaged, private Quaker school for middle and high school. Exploration and free thinking was encouraged, but it was still very much a college prep school. The motto was “let your life speak,” although, I think many parents took it to mean, “let your life speak by attending a prestigious, 4 year, eastern university.”
- I went to RIT to study mechanical engineering, but switched to finance after 3 years. I was hired by my internship, but quickly learned programming (something I had always fooled around with) to make my job easier.
- I worked as a “software engineer” for an educational software company, having had zero formal training, or any degree that would indicate I was qualified to write software used by millions of people. In retrospect, I feel that my college experience was somewhat superfluous, as the majority of my current skills were acquired “on the job.”
- The culture of the industry, really, more over that of the company at which I worked, was very college driven. It was seen as a given that college was the next step. It was almost heresy to suggest that people might have a successful life outside of the path: school Pre–20, job, promotion, house, family, and so on.
And so I’ll summarize:
I went to college, scored highly, got a degree. Did I need to? No.
The metaphor that comes to mind is like going through a long and arduous hedge maze, only to find at the exit, a hole in the bushes that might allow you to skip from the entrance to the end.
Learning is one of my favorite things, and education is great. The more the better. But I don’t believe in the slightest that it is something that must be administered. Rather it is a life long process, where access to specific tools are helpful. These tools can include institutions, or classes, but not as the only implements.
I’ll end with some of my criticisms of the education system and culture. And perhaps in future musings will consider possible improvements or solutions.
- We live in a culture of do these things, and you will be successful. The idea of success is an amorphous blob, an intangible goal, apparently satisfied by the eventual culmination of an early life of standardized education. Going through the motions of primary school to attend a college, to obtain a generic degree, should allow you to obtain a rather generic office job, and afford a rather generic house or apartment, go out, buy some stuff, and have a pretty happy life. Those that do not follow this path are ever so slightly stigmatized as lacking ambition, or giving up on their potential. Never mind the plumber that brings in over 100k a year from selling AC upgrades.
- The pressure to conform trumps the desires of an individual. Consider that most CEOs or company founders did not start with an MBA. Nor did most any of the variety of successful people watched by millions, who do things “out side of an office.” The girl who struggles through math, but loves to paint, is culturally coerced into continuing the struggle, seeking a “degree” in fine arts as a generally approved way to pursue the passion.
- We focus on things that are easy to measure. A quick search of the internet will reveal myriad articles on the emphasis placed on testing and numbers. And clearly this is to the detriment of creative learning, and in fact learning itself. I maintain that tests show that you can pass the test, and certifications show you can get a certification. I’d wager that anyone’s favorite class from childhood would be most closely connected with the fundamental real application of knowledge, be it the teacher that took their students to speak french at various restaurants and bakeries. Or the science teacher that blew things up. By focusing on test prep, we are stripping the joy and exploration out of the learning process.
- Education is seen as separate from living. We “go to school.” I’m sorry, but I’m still “in school,” I’m in school right now, a creative writing class, and will be graded by the whole of the internet. By partioning off education as something that happens at a specific place, during a specific time, we are downplaying the role of learning in everyday, non-school, events. Worse still, those who experience a bad time at school, are likely to turn off to learning whenever it arrises.
I’d offer that “finding what excites you” as guide to help people of all ages navigate through their education and larger life. Following the path of excitement, honestly, and with compassionate support, may lead to, or be aided by, even the existing education system. However, also consider alternatives that may help you take shortcuts through the maze.