fuck shit up

The university is on strike. Not the professors, but the students. At least some of them are. Behind all the computers around me sit students, dutifully typing away at Word documents and Power Point presentations.

It’s happening all across Germany this week: students aren’t going to classes and are going to open seminars, to protests, to voküs. In Mainz a small tent camp has been set up outside of one of the student centers, and we–those kids from Haus Mainusch–have canceled the afternoon vokü and are cooking evenings in a black tent kitchen on the green next to them.

Whether the week will make any sort of difference is debatable. I suppose I’d have to first define “difference.” If the week gets a few people thinking more critically about the education system, then hurrah. If the week gets a few real changes into the machinery, then hurrah. Frankly I’m having a hard time giving a shit. I have become far too jaded for protests or strikes. Long finished with college myself, I cannot strike. I cook because it seems like the sort of action that should be supported, despite the stubborn cynicism bucking in my head. I was long ago issued the standard cynic’s porch, rocking chair, and shakin’ cane.

“I don’t think I really have time to strike from my work,” a friend told me last week. “I have a test in two weeks and if I don’t pass it I will have to wait another six months to finish that requirement.” Striking doesn’t work very well when the machine trudges on, when there are scabs and people still going to classes and giving tests. I think back to my own college days. Would I have taken the time to strike? Would I have seen the point?

Right up until that painful last year, I loved college. It meant that all my friends lived within walking distance, it meant that there were a billion things to do, and the classes themselves–well, I majored in English because I really like to read and write, not because I was chasing a piece of paper that would force me through a bunch of painful requirements. I liked it there so much that I refused the chance of a semester abroad. “We’re only here four years,” I can still hear myself explaining to a friend in the dining hall. “I don’t want to miss anything. I’d rather wait until afterwards, go somewhere on my own terms.”

It wasn’t until later that I became critical of the educational system. The way it seemed designed to teach you to be a good little obedient worker; the way it was decided for you, what you would learn and how and when; the way it favored people with middle class families and white skin. The way filling out those little bubbles on the three-hour multiple choice tests didn’t really have anything to do with reality, yet determined which colleges would even look at my application. The focus on the theoretical rather than the practical. I always got good grades, but did it really mean anything? Well, it meant that I was good at memorizing things. That I was good at forcing myself to do things I didn’t really feel like doing. That I turned in my homework on time and studied for tests. Did it mean I was particularly smart? I don’t think so. Not to say that I think I am unintelligent, but to say that good grades don’t necessarily prove anything one way or the other.

I learned to play the game in high school. I looked at the rules and saw how easy it was to bend them without disturbing the illusion that I was a model student. If I didn’t feel like going into school, or wanted to go in late, my mom would write me a note excusing me. My music teacher would write us passes to leave class for “singing lessons.” Both of them knew I would get the work done anyway. When I found out that my Spanish teacher, the irritating little strumpet who spent more of class complaining to us about her sweet but naive-sounding husband than teaching us Spanish, was sleeping with one of my acquaintances on the sly, I started having singing lessons during every single class.

At my high school graduation I remember the speeches, the tearful parents, all more or less saying the same thing, “Your years in high school and college are some of the best years of your life. Enjoy it while it lasts–after that you’ll have to face the real world.” THE REAL WORLD. The words sounded dramatic, as if there should have been dramatic horror-film music swelling behind them as they were uttered–THE REAL WORLD. (Crack of thunder, swell of violins!) Apparently the real world is where you have to do things you don’t want to all the time (like school?), to get up early (like school?), sit behind the same desk for 8 hours every day (oh, you mean, just like school?), and–the only real difference I can see between being in high school and being in the treacherous real world–pay a lot of drab bills. At the time my friends and I raised our eyebrows, shrugged, and went back to speculating about what college would be like and how we would keep in touch.

I liked high school and college at the time, sure, but I wouldn’t go back if you paid me in millions. This whole “dubious” real world just gets better and better every minute. But that is probably because I don’t have a boss or a 9-5 schedule, I have my own house but no mortgage, have sparse bills and more free time than ever before. I spend almost all my time doing things that, in other contexts, people would classify as work, but that I do not classify as such because I have chosen them, and so I embrace each aspect–positive and negative–of those choices.

It was sometime around my senior year in college that I started to question what was really at the heart of the education system, that it started to be more stress than joy. I had decided to write a thesis and had signed up for 18 credits a semester, wanting to cram as much as possible into that last year. Then there was the college radio station (I signed the checks), the writing center (that year I bumped up from regular tutor to head of the ESL tutoring program), my job at the mall bookstore (to pay the rent), the literary magazine (of which I somehow became co-editor), my weekend occasional job as projectionist for the college-sponsored film night (rent strikes again), my boyfriend, my housemates, cooking, cleaning, sleep, sanity. Somewhere between bowling and 40s nights something went horribly awry, horribly Jerry Spring among one of my groups of friends and I stopped coming around. I took Ritalin so I could stay up working, but then I needed something else to help me sleep when I finally found the time. My hangovers became panic attacks, and I spent nights locked in various campus lounges reading about Nadine Gordimer and South Africa and identity construction, my boyfriend at the time stopping by occasionally to bring me orange juice and pastries.

In May I awoke in a pile of shredded papers and pictures, disgruntled but finished, mumbling something about moving to South America to farm peanuts, about never reading another book again. Two weeks later I stared my very own 9-5 as a proofreader at a small custom publisher in town. It took a year before I noticed that a desk job was a soul-sucking monster that would destroy me if I let it. And after I quit and moved across the sea it took another six months before I remembered that I actually liked writing. For fun. Just because. When people tell me they probably don’t have the time to join the student strike, I shrug and nod. I probably wouldn’t have had the time either, but now that I do, I realize, bloody hell, I really should have.

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Wednesday June 17th 2009, 6:53 am 3 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies

3 Comments so far. Please leave a comment.

I nodded at “never reading another book again.” I can honestly say that for about 4 years after university I didn’t read a damn thing. The desire was just squeezed out of me.

Comment by ian in hamburg 06.17.09 @ 6:01 pm

I’m reading this and thinking, where was I during all this Jerry Springer nonsense? and I remember that I missed half of your senior year. I guess I also conflate my senior year with yours, but you were not in school that year…

At our upper school graduation last week, the program listed where all the students were going to college. Only three of them are not going to college, and to keep up appearances the school wrote stupid things like “so and so is looking forward to taking a gap year between high school and college.” Is it really such a problem NOT to go to college?!

Comment by Jill 06.17.09 @ 8:37 pm

“nod, nod, nod… wait what?” if the strumpet is who i think it is, i was never aware of this affair. not only did i have her class for four years, i’ve also been employed by her husband for the last nine. it’s a little late to jump on the hs gossip train, but seriously, do tell.

Comment by finn 06.18.09 @ 3:56 am




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