After yet another night filled with anxiety about my chosen path in life, I spent today at the library trying to catch up on reading and to get my head back on straight. After about an hour sitting in a study carrel on the top floor of the library, I was freezing and decided to head outside to read. The sunshine helped me clear my head. What it did for my reading, well, that’s another story.
Later in the day, when I could no longer focus my eyes on the tiny black and white print of my page, I headed to the University Center for some lunch. I got my sandwich and walked outside to find a table. Seton Hall seems to be trying to make the most out of their air conditioning units because everywhere, I mean everywhere, on campus was freezing cold today. Anyway, I found a spot at a picnic table on the raised patio outside the University Center and sat down to enjoy my lunch.
Just as I was starting to relax and enjoy the beautiful day, I overheard a bit of the conversation going on at the table next to me. I looked over to find two kids, maybe first or second year students, dressed in what I can only call classic “teen rebel phase” clothes – ripped up jeans, heavy metal band t-shirts, chains, and dreads – yet it wasn’t so much their outfits that worried me as what I heard them saying.
The one guy was telling his girl friend (girlfriend or girl who is a friend, who knows) that he was so annoyed at being in school, that he saw no purpose, he didn’t care, classes were stupid and a waste of time, and that he could be doing much better things with his time (what those things might be, he did not say). The girl agreed and continued on to complain about the fact that her professor was angry at her for having turned in a paper late and that she couldn’t believe her class was being quizzed on reading assignments. “How juvenile is that?” she asked. “Of course we’re going to fail those.” The guy agreed, shook his head, and started collecting his things. The two left the patio smoking cigarettes and continuing their diatribe about higher education and professors.
As they walked away, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad. Here I was at an institute of higher learning, one prized for its dedication to the liberal arts, and students could not see the value of it. In fact they believed it to be a “waste of time.” I wanted to run after them and ask why they were here at all. They were definitely over 16 and had, presumably spent time and money submitting an application to attend this university. Seton Hall doesn’t just let people walk into classes off the streets. If you think it’s such a waste of time, why come?
Disheartened as I was, I then started to realize the hypocrisy of their situation even further. How could they sit there on those benches and eschew the very system of higher learning they so vehemently believed unimportant while supporting by their very status as students. Isn’t their agreeing to attend, to even deign (as I’m sure they see it) attend class, a willful participation in the very system they wish to undermine? I wanted to ask them all these things and to see if they had considered the fact that their very presence on this campus took that opportunity from someone else. Seton Hall does not have a 100% admittance rate.
I may sound bitter, and perhaps I’m putting too much blame and spite on these individuals, but I simply couldn’t believe the ideas coming from them. From their conversation, I could understand that they are here, receiving a college education, because they are supposed to, because it’s what one does after high school. In essence, they again are playing into the very societal system to which they so, apparently, object. Then I started to think about their professors. I bet that these two students completed (or are completing) English Composition. I bet that some of my classmates were (or are) their professors, some of my classmates who spend their nights grading, their weekends devising lesson plans, and their free time striving to make the material accessible and relevant to students. Had these two kids ever considered that?
Again, perhaps I’ve jumped on to a high horse or a soap box, but I look at the world in which we live today, in which English and Humanities professors, departments, and schools are faced with the task of justifying their existence, in which education has lost its place among valuable assets, and I can’t help but feel a little defeated. We live in a world where people largely feel entitled to receive what they have come to expect yet refuse to work for it. It’s painful, painful to see that by and by our universities are filled with students who admit they have not done the work asked of them, who complain that professors dare to expect greatness and original thought from them, who see the process of education as a burden to bear before they can move forward, who view learning as a waste of time they could be spending on “better things.” No wonder education has lost its standing in this world. No wonder the value of gaining knowledge for knowledge’s sake has lost all value. No wonder we are producing more and more people who cannot read or write. How can anyone expect our universities to survive in such a climate? How do we, as academics, survive in a world that calls us useless and devalues our contributions?
I fear that universities cannot survive the masses of students who view higher learning like the two sitting beside me. Then the scariest question arises: can our universities survive without them?