Caged In The School System

I remember in English class a few weeks ago, my teacher was going over the concept of the American Dream. So to start off, she asked my class: what is your American dream? The first student she picked on answered, “Uh… probably go to a good college.” Second student she picked on said, “Go to a good college, and then get a good job.” Third student—good college and good job. Fourth student—good college and good job. Fifth student—good college and good job. And so on. The whole time, I was just thinking, wow, much diversity.

Not that there’s anything wrong with pursuing a good college and career. After all, it does provide a good shot at a secure financial future. Yet, what troubles me is how, out of all the possibilities, everybody had the exact same dream, almost as if they all had the same parents. Or perhaps a better explanation, they were all under the same system—this system of school, grades, college, and education and its essentiality in life that has been propagandized to us students.

So was I. Back before high school, I wasn’t just under this system, I was into it. Give me a history textbook, and I would read the whole thing like it was a story, even the sections that the teacher skipped. Give me some math, and I would spend hours trying to figure out a method different from the textbook’s. I was even reading high school books like Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations in elementary school, although I didn’t know it that time. Overall, my parents had really stressed education in my life, and I embraced it willingly.

Only thing is, I did it for the grades. I only did it for college as my parents told me to do, because I believed that my future was dependent on college. Not just any college, but it had to be one of those top-notch colleges or I would become homeless. Ridiculous ideas like these permeated my mind, and as a result, my attitude towards a subject was highly reliant on grades. If I got the A+, I “loved” the subject. If not, not so happy about it.

By the end of middle school, however, I had found my passion for writing and the arts, which was only reinforced throughout high school. It was a time when I thoroughly enjoyed a subject, regardless of letter grade. I was also getting tired of just doing tests and homework; to me, it began to seem more and more retarded, because who takes tests in real life? By then, my thought process was much more matured, and I realized not all people who went to community colleges were failures, and that colleges don’t really determine your life. That success wasn’t really about high salary and good name colleges, but more about personality, sympathy, and work.

Most importantly, I realized that all that time I was a caged bird that didn’t even know it was caged. I had thought my cage was my haven, and I had docilely accepted the hand that fed me. But at that moment I refused my parent’s insistence to pursue a science path just because it paid more than a writing career, at that moment when I decided to screw worrying about college, it was the first time I looked out my cage—out of the society, the environment, my
parents, school which had carved for me a path to follow, which told me this was the way I had to do it. I looked out my cage, and I was freed.

Unfortunately, the majority of students is caged, and will likely refuse to admit they live in a cage. Hopefully, there are those who can be freed in the long run. Ultimately, the basic message is not to promote disobedience of parents or society or whatnot; they are definitely only doing what they think is best for you. Rather, the message is to change that “they think” into “you think,” to not let your vision be limited by anybody else, to make sure that your dream is definitely your dream, and to not be the same boring guy whose main goal in life is to go to a good college just because society demands so. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

This article was meant to target my school audience, which is a very academically orientated school. However, I believe this can apply to any high-performing school environment and to the many students around the world whose entire life is revolved around college and education.

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