I specifically remember my first day of high school as a puny, brace-faced punk. As I sat in my honors biology class, my teacher explained the importance of doing well in that class because my performance in high school would be seen on all of my college applications. I remember being terrified and thinking how absurd it was to be planning for college, when only 2 months ago I thought graduating from 8th grade was a big deal. But as I think back now, college prep began well before high school. Since I was a small child, school has always been preparing me for a challenging academic lifestyle that would pave the way for a future successful career. From the spelling bees in elementary school to the science fairs in junior high, to every single parent, teacher, and mentor who stressed the importance of college. I was destined for an academic life.
My problem is not with the encouragement to excel. I am grateful for that aspect of my primary and secondary education. However, my problem is more with how I was encouraged to excel. I was always taught that life is a one path road: graduate from high school with honors, go to college, graduate in no more than 4 years, begin my career OR commit my life to a graduate program. In my experience, any bump in the road or slight deviation from this pre-planned lifestyle was considered a failure. And I bought into this, because it was all I ever knew; it was all I was ever taught. I played by the rules, and I became a product of my society. But what about those who took the non-traditional routes?
Society expects us to be great without properly preparing us for greatness. Yet, only certain careers or areas of study fall under this category, and when we do not achieve this “greatness” we are considered failures. We are rarely encouraged to take the unconventional route in education, and we are never warned of possible consequences of attempting to achieve this greatness (e.g. rejection from med school or unemployment post college graduation). Seldom are we introduced to the thousands of other possibilities out there that will allow us to be truly well-rounded and well-defined individuals in every sense.
Society needs to give credit where credit is earned: that is to the hard-working teacher that stays up late writing lesson plans and to the physician who spends years getting educated and trained to properly care for patients. But also to the freelance writer who expresses thoughts that prompts meaningful conversations and to the stay-at-home mom who is running her own business from home while caring for her home and child(ren). We, as a society, need to encourage all careers and education at all ages, traditional and not. We need to create services that make these jobs known so high school and college students know that there are many career options for those who choose to study something outside of the medical and technological realms, while (understandably) still maintaing a stable income. We need to encourage careers that breed intellect, and focus on ideas and concepts that allow for interpretation and stimulation of the mind, and not just ones that rely on numbers and facts with the sole purpose of gaining an extra step on the social and financial ladders. And we need to stress the importance of volunteerism when it is based on its genuine role in the humanitarian cause and dissociated from “looking good” on applications. With this, we inspire versatility and excellence among our population and we reduce the number of smart, college-educated individuals working jobs for which they are over-qualified or not interested, or both.
Despite what I may have led you to believe, the purpose of this post is not to rant about what society needs to do, but to bring awareness to this pandemic problem and to induce change that will ultimately lead to the advancement of society. Suggestions are encouraged and welcome.