Privilege, and the meaning of true education

It’s hard for me to relax.

I believe we’ve been conditioned to think that if we’re not moving all the time, doing something, accomplishing a task, downloading more information, saving the world, then we’re somehow not actualizing our life-purpose. Heaven forbid we slow down for a hot minute and realize that the heavens will not crash down if we admit that we’re not balancing the world precariously on our shoulders.

Deep breath.

You’re not God. Stop it with the personal responsibility. For everything.

As I mentioned in a previous post, this year is the FIRST TIME in my academic career (basically my whole life since I was three’ish if you count pre-K)—so 17 years— that I have not been in super duper school mode. Once you stop a task you’ve been doing for years (ie going to school all the time) a massive mental and physical recalibration occurs.

Or at least that is what happened to me.

I didn’t realize this process was in motion. I thought I was just losing my mind a little. Symptoms included: always feeling like I needed to be doing something like performing to some standard, following rules, and feeling guilty for resting. Other additional side effects included an intensive questioning of my life-purpose, the purpose of my education, and what I’m doing in life. This massive refocusing of my efforts and daily routine shook up a lot of questions- things I have been wanting to understand and see better but that I have not had the time to do. Because of my so-called “formal education.”

Now, this is not a post bashing education. I’m very very grateful for the tremendous education I’ve had thus far and am, more than ever, aware of how privileged I am to receive one– especially a college one. However, I am not stepping out of academia without some poignant criticism.

Q: What has my educational experience lacked?

A: Mental space, the opportunities to ask crucial life-questions pertaining to your own happiness, purpose and peace of mind, and the freedom to disagree with and change the direction of your education.

I have found that, in the race to “make something of yourself” (which is very mesmerizing especially at the end of high school and in college) you aren’t encouraged to completely put on the brakes and ask yourself honestly, “Wait. What the hell am I doing this all for, and where the hell am I going?,” or simply, “Am I happy?”

I consider the lack of space in our formal education to ask and explore these questions to be a tragedy waiting to happen. Is this any way to educate the next generation of thinkers to operate at their happiest, most fulfilled, and most dynamic potential? In my opinion, I really do not think so.

I have been blessed to have had really good teachers and professors my whole life who have pressed me to consider life deeply. Plus, my senior year at an alternative educational institution did indeed give me the space and freedom to pursue answers to these essential queries.

And most of all, I have not stopped asking myself these questions. Even when I have been confused, unsure, anxious about, and downright depressed about my progress in “getting an education” in order to competitively join the next rat race to “get a high-paying job with status”.

There’s a very good reason that being in this perceived “race” to collect a degree and then rope in a stable job makes one uneasy. That’s because it’s not natural.

I know this from recent personal experience.

Having stepped away from academia–an arena I have always loved and flourished in–I have never been happier. Nor have I ever been more aghast to discover that I had so many repressed and important questions bubbling just under the surface of my consciousness.

I have been pondering how I am valuing my education, considering that there is an amazing proportion of individuals in the United States and the world who will never get a college education– perhaps even a full high school one.

College is expensive. It takes a lot of hard work to stay afloat if you have a spouse and children to support. Where is the money going to come from? What if you don’t speak English well, or at all? What if you are undocumented and pursuing higher education would imperil the life you’ve built in your adopted country for 10, maybe 20 years?

Part of my awakening regarding education has been about realizing how privileged I am. There is so much I have and can take for granted as a male, white, upper-middle class citizen. A college degree has been a given ever since I popped out of the womb 20 glorious years ago. I have never struggled to have the support of my family and extended family to support my progress in school. I have never had to split my time between a job, high school, and caring for younger siblings while my parents worked just to put food on the table.

I have never considered the possibility of having to do this. It has never entered my experience in a real way.

And I am learning that that’s nothing to feel guilty about.

So what? I didn’t ask to be born white, male, American, privileged, and raised in what cnbc.com considers the eighth wealthiest county in the United States.

(http://www.cnbc.com/id/47190048/America_s_10_Richest_Counties?slide=4)

The real question becomes: what I am going to do with what I have? It would be far too easy to devalue the incredible opportunities I have been given my whole life simply because it is what I have gotten used to. Again, this is nothing to feel bad about. Instead I believe that it is a matter of learning to live, love, and give of the opportunities life presents to you, whatever they are.

Mary Baker Eddy, the woman who in the late 1800’s founded the American Protestant religion she termed Christian Science, wrote in a poem she titled “Satisfied”:

“It matters not what be thy lot,

So Love doth guide;

For storm or shine, pure peace is thine,

What e’re be tide.”

Individuals I have been meeting have taught me this lesson in incredible ways. Perhaps they’ll never be given the same educational opportunities I was automatically presented with at birth. But they have taken what was put in front of them, and multiplied their talents in inspiring ways.

Northern New Mexico is poverty stricken in an economic sense. But poverty is just the opposite of what I am seeing expressed everyday in the people and environment around me. Nothing but vivacity, plentitude of spirit, and lives lived in abundance.

So, back to education. Knowing what I know now about how privileged I am to have these opportunities, I have been given the space to ask myself how I am going to use them. Again, “It matters not what be thy lot…” So live and give of what’s been put in front of you.

As one who is no longer a part of the rat race to get a degree, get a job, a home with a partner, 2.5 children and a poodle, I presently find myself as part of a community where all the normal rules do not apply. From living and working with members in this community, I have been given a rich perspective from which to approach the rest of my life. And, gasp, I did not get this (and probably could not have gotten) this perspective in a formal, academic setting.

You can’t learn real life out of a textbook.

Moving away to a “new world” for a year has already proven itself to be the most enriching and educational endeavors I have ever embarked on. It has rocked my universe and asked me to get real about what I am living for and what I am going to do with what’s in front of me.It’s out of earning these sweet lessons that I have finally been given permission to rest, content with knowing more clearly what I care about.

It’s not about the degree; plenty of people live happy lives without one; plenty of people live unhappy lives with one. It’s about truly becoming educated– it’s about learning to love unselfishly and giving of what you have wherever you are. It’s about being who and what you really are– an individual imbued with infinite potential to give, live, love, and receive the same qualities expressed in life around you.

With that, the term “education” has taken on a deep, dynamic meaning unconfined by mere academics. Life is bigger. Now, I strive to use my education to find a way to give voice and audience to the many noble lives you will never read about in the news, that will never be interviewed by a local paper– the voices that appear as silent statistics when you read about an apartment complex burning down in the inner city, the voices of the people who grow your food, care for your children.

True education: learning there is no us and them.

My goal: to live a life that makes that more apparent in the world.

I am so grateful for this bountiful life we live. So much potential for good. Let’s live it boldly, whatever our lot in life may be.

Again:

“It matters not what be thy lot,

So Love doth guide;

For storm or shine, pure peace is thine,

What e’re be tide.” – MBE

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Privilege, and the meaning of true education

  1. Yes schedules are so jam-packed with command to stay-on-task that the product becomes more important than the process? Well said that your school daze did not have some free time to just ponder, question, muse. Well said, rather than fret about our possible position of ‘privilege’ it is more what legacy do I leave from I have been granted. Great thoughtful post. Thankyou.

    • Happyflower! Thanks for reading : ) You also summed it up very well yourself in your comment. Succinct, clear, simple. I love the idea of leaving a legacy. Best to you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s