A couple of months ago, I had an assignment due and, trying to blow off some steam, I was flippantly tweeting about how I felt about the assignment and the subject, how I felt a bit stressed about the deadline, and how I knew I’d get it done because I had a plan.
Shortly after, someone tried to sell me an essay. I guess he didn’t see the second tweet about how it was gonna be alright.
My initial reaction was, ‘doesn’t that defeat the point of study?’ And then, hot on its heels came, ‘what is the point of study?’
I’ve had a complicated relationship with education and learning. I love learning, but for various reasons I have hated the institution. I’ve been in formal education almost all of my life, much of it not voluntarily or only partly willingly. I was in school until eighteen, studied biology at undergrad until twenty-one and then at twenty-five I chose to begin studying postgraduate English literature. I turned twenty-seven in March and I’m still studying. I’m doing my MA in Creative Writing and I’m on course to get that done by twenty-eight, barring acts of God.
Essay Guy’s tweet got me thinking about why I was studying. It’s not just to get a grade, to slap an assignment in so that I can tick it off a checklist. That was the attitude that was imparted by a lot of teachers in school. There were a few who were clearly enthusiastic about their subject, but often only imparted that enthusiasm if you showed willing. (Shout out to my English teacher for lending me Dracula, after I said our excerpt was interesting and wanted to read the whole thing). For the rest, it was a tick-box, get them through the exam, get the job done, get rid of them.
When you’re in school, a vital element is missing from the education; active engagement. You’re there unwillingly, you don’t get a choice. It would have made a hell of a lot of difference to schooling if someone, at any point in the process, had sat down with me and said; what do you want to get out of this? Or, you’re about to go to university. What do you want to get out of that?
It’s that question I’m constantly trying to answer when I studying now, voluntarily, in something that I’m dead keen on. ‘What do I want to get out of this?’
Here’s what I’ve got so far:
- I want to be a better writer, it’s what I’m meant to do, I want to hone my craft.
- I want to meet others who are in the same place as I am, I want to meet peers.
- I want to access to the other resources it brings i.e. lecturers and the university library.
- I want the opportunity to study it further, assuming I get the qualification.
- I want to get the qualification.
Compare that to the reasons that I studied biology at undergraduate:
- I need to get a job at some point.
- I’m good at it.
- I’m interested in it… as a hobby, (cf. with ‘it’s what I’m meant to do’).
- I felt that it was expected of me; I got good grades in school, so I had to do something ‘serious’* or it would be a waste.
- To get the qualification.
I don’t think that the reasons I studied biology are good ones, compared to why I’ve studied English lit and creative writing.
Be honest why you’re studying. There are good and bad reasons to study, and as someone who’s done lots of study for both reasons, I can tell you it’s depressing and stressful to dedicated your time, energy, and money to studying something for the wrong reasons. If you’re in voluntary study at the moment, and you feel like it’s being done to you, rather than something you find fulfilling, something you’re choosing to do, maybe you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
If you’re in compulsory study at the moment and you hate it with your whole soul—you’re not alone; been there—think about what you want to get out of it. Your parents and teachers and even the government have expectations for what they want you to get out of it. You parents might want you to achieve certain grades, your teachers might need you to get certain qualifications for their own evaluations, and the government has a specific curriculum because there are certain things that people need to know. Really, however, although you still need to know a certain amount of stuff, you can make the whole thing bearable by identifying what you get out of it. Do you want to find something you’re passionate about? Are you just curious? Do you want to be a better rounded person? Or work out how to live a good life? You might not have a choice in being there, but I guarantee you can feel better about it if you take ownership of it. It’s your life, after all.
Got an opinion on this, how you found school or why you began further study? Got any more good or bad reasons to study? Whack a comment below.
*The humanities were not treated well where I went to school. Several teachers referred to English and philosophy as Mickey Mouse subjects. Psychology too, come to think of it, and that is a science.