Education extends beyond classroom walls, beyond graduation

By Meredith Wagner | Social Media Editor

The human experience is full of absurd paradoxes. We are often unknowingly self-contradictory, and our education today is no exception.

I wanted to go to the flea market on Sunday morning to purchase nopales and mangoes and to practice my Spanish with local vendors. What did I do instead? I watched an assigned short film and read an assigned short story, both due the next day, neither of which I feel helped my growth as a Spanish speaker. I would have been better served to practice the language in a real-world setting. The pressure to make good grades kept me at home.

On more than one occasion, I have felt that my education inhibited me from learning. This is not to say that the university or the education system has failed me, or that it should be blamed as a whole. I am thankful for the opportunity to grow as a writer, an artist and a scholar in an academic setting under the supervision of people who know far more than I do. Still, I am frustrated by the common notion that my grades are a thorough reflection of my intelligence, my creativity or my motivation. They are not.

In Guatemala, I learned that sometimes my words do not carry any weight, that body language and intentionality are sufficient when words are stripped of their meaning. In India, I learned from a wise monk that acceptance among all religions is the only path to a peaceful world, that wars fought over the specificities of texts and traditions will only lead us further away from our collective goals as a species. In the Grand Canyon, I learned that we all share a moral responsibility to treat the earth with as much respect as we can conjure, that without the preservation of natural beauty, we will be incomplete. (Also, that you should bring enough toilet paper for the entirety of your journey, unless mentally prepared for creative alternatives.)

Currently, I am learning to nourish my body by preparing my own food, to prioritize wholesome experiences above material possession and to ground my heart and soul in something beyond human comprehension. None of these lessons are being learned in school, but rather, in moments of vulnerability and exploration unrestricted by time.

Much of my anxiety about school stems from the notion that I must be a perfect professional by the time I graduate. I often succumb to the force of societal pressures to fit a predetermined mold, one that is widely accepted as productive and efficient. This diminishes the prospect that we should make beautiful things for the sake of living in a beautiful world. As the early nineteenth-century slogan went, “Art for art’s sake.” Our work should be an expression of our fluid existence and a reflection of our love and purpose on earth.

Instead, students are wired to believe that their grades are a determining factor for the rest of their lives. Perhaps, in a sense, they are. However, it is equally likely that the perfect student will leave college ill-equipped to navigate a world of constant change.

There are lessons to be learned at every turn of the corner, and they are not limited to classroom walls. I will continue to succeed in school, because I am here and because I want to. School is so important in a world as confusing as our own. Still, as education becomes increasingly quantified, the freedom to move and grow outside of an institution cannot be lost. To round your character, to find your niche and to fully experience life in general may come at the cost of a less-than grade or educational experience, and that is OK. The classroom may grant us opportunities to learn, but it is ultimately the responsibility of the individual to fill in the cracks of modern education elsewhere.