“Are you sad to be graduating?”
“No, I really can’t wait.”
“Ha, that’s what you think now.”
No… that’s what I know.
I’ve had this conversation too many times. I cannot wait to graduate from college, which a lot of people don’t understand. Then again, I know a lot of people who feel the same way. I have deep issues with the education system. My relationship with school is annoyingly complex and goes far beyond just “not liking” it. School has always been one of the main triggers for my anxiety and depression, which are both reasons for and direct results of my resentment toward the education system.
I can only speak to my own experiences, no one else’s. I will just say it plainly. I hate school. For a lot of reasons, and I want to explain it. Not to annoy anyone or to look for sympathy, because god knows there are much more important issues in this world than not liking school. However, I’ve learned that I’m definitely not the only person who feels this way, and I want to share my experience in case this resonates with someone else.
First of all, I do not hate education. I love education. At my core, I’m an avid learner. I’m the person who pulls all-nighters to read scientific journal articles and random books. I spend most of my time googling things. In my spare time I read hundreds of books on any topic I can get my hands on – health, nutrition, technology, science. I was a verified computer geek by age 7, forcing the engineers in my family to teach me the ins and outs of computer systems, data systems, hardware, software, whatever. I just wanted to know everything. In elementary school I would read the dictionary for fun. I like to learn. There is nothing more important than learning. It’s why I love podcasts so much. When I’m not soaking in information, I feel like I’m wasting my life away.
Education, however, has become very separated from the education system. Today, the education system is a series of assignments and tests, often on information that is completely inapplicable to real life. That’s definitely not always the case. If you want to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or some other specialized profession, the things they teach you in school do actually help you. But even then, not all of it does. Let’s take GEs in college, for instance. I’ve taken three classes on the history of Mesopotamia to fulfill those requirements, amongst other classes. Please tell me how knowing about the history of Mesopotamia is going to help me in my life. Please tell me how writing 6 15-page research papers on Mesopotamia was not a massive waste of my precious time. How about spending hours memorizing the dates of different kingships?
Beyond that, those tests and assignments aren’t necessarily true measures of learning anyways. You can bullshit an assignment. You can study for the test, and forget all of the information 2 hours after it’s over. Your grade can be determined by your TA’s mood. It’s not always about real learning. It’s more about getting the grade.
School is just a giant pool of pressure. And it’s on another level for our generation. Even adults who were in college just 10 years ago had a completely different experience. I have felt extreme pressure throughout my entire life regarding school. Before having a career, school is our job. And as someone who puts 110% into everything I do, school became my life. I worked my ass off in middle school for no real reason. I was 14 and depressed beyond belief, because I felt like all of my time was spent studying things that were unimportant to me. Feeling the stress of having to perform well on a test or an essay. I wasn’t truly learning anything because I was so stressed out. Instead, I did what I had to do to get the A. It didn’t matter if I actually absorbed the information. It was just about getting my A.
I began to feel the pressure the first year we got “real grades” in school. Third grade. I was so nervous. And that’s when the panic attacks started. The hyperventilating. The dizziness, the nausea, the feeling of impending doom constantly hanging over my head. The reaction was so extreme, and I was embarrassed to explain it to anyone. There were a lot of days I faked being sick so I could go home because my anxiety was too debilitating. I was only 9, and I didn’t really understand what was happening to me. My teachers would get irritated with me because I asked to use the restroom every day at the same time, but my panic attacks came every day at the same time. I didn’t want anyone to see or to know. I cried most mornings before school. Walking into a classroom felt like legitimate torture. But I didn’t tell anyone because I knew my reaction to school was wildly disproportionate to the real situation. Other kids weren’t having that reaction…why was I?
As I got older, the anxiety morphed into a depression. I felt like my entire life revolved around studying and getting good grades. Memorizing things I didn’t care about and wouldn’t remember a week later. Working on projects that were irrelevant to my life. Staying up all night to write essays. In middle school, I spent more time on my homework than my sister spent on hers, and she was in high school at the time. Every day felt the same, and I felt hopeless. My resentment toward the education system had flourished into an angry beast.
So there I was, about to go to a public high school, but unnecessarily putting a shitload of pressure on myself to get perfect grades. What was the point? What was the point of locking myself in my room every day to study? What was the point of not hanging out with my friends? Of not sleeping? Of not spending time with my family? Of feeling like the life was being sucked out of me before I had really gotten to the point of living yet? I was valedictorian in middle school, but that didn’t bring me enough satisfaction to make it worthwhile. I knew that my grades weren’t going to matter to me a year from then. And I knew it wasn’t over.
Then came high school. More of the same, but worse. I realized, Shit. Now I actually do have to get good grades so I can get into college. I was angry with myself for putting so much energy into school the years before, when my grades didn’t matter. I should’ve saved that energy. I was fifteen and burnt out, but I didn’t have the choice to stop. The pattern continued in high school. I woke up every morning and cried before I left for class, and I had a panic attack most days. I went to class, went to volleyball practice, came home, ate dinner, showered, did homework until 3 or 4 A.M., woke up at 6:30, and did it all again. I was very depressed. I turned down plans with friends. I turned down plans with family. I constantly felt like I was missing out. But I had to study. I had to get As. I had to do my readings and my papers and my projects. And I hated all of it. But I had no choice. I just kept telling myself, You just have to get through high school. Just get through high school.
I took Psychology as a Junior in high school, and it was the first class that I truly liked. I enjoyed the subject, so doing the work wasn’t that bad. I told myself that’s what college would be like – I could pick my major and take classes that actually interested me. Everything would get a little easier, right?
By the time I graduated from high school, I was really burnt out. I spent most of my Junior and Senior years living off of 5-Hour Energy to stay awake. No sleeping. Studying. Trying to hide my panic attacks from my friends and family and teachers. Just trying to get through each day. Crying to my best friend about feeling like I had missed out on my whole life. I felt like I had missed out on my childhood, and on being a teenager. I spent it all studying. I spent it trying to calm my racing heart when it came to school. My resentment for the education system grew deeper. It had stolen memories from me. Of course, I still made memories. I have a lot of great ones. But what I mostly remember is studying. Feeling sick from not sleeping. Feeling the room spin from my anxiety. The competition. Everyone being so worried about what grade I got on my tests. The comparisons. Everyone wanting to know my goddamn SAT score. Because that number defines how smart we are, right? Not.
I felt so sad and desperate, and I tried to explain how I felt to other people. “But how can you not like school? I thought you loved school.” “Why would you think that?” “Because you’re so good at it.” Being good at school was exactly why I hated it so much. It’s exactly why I resent it. I felt like it became my identity. I poured all of my energy and efforts into something that did not bring me any happiness, and something that I didn’t believe was that important. It’s a system I am strongly against for many reasons. I believe that the most important things in life are health, family, friends, being a good person, and doing things that truly make you happy. There is much more to life than school. I gave up doing a lot of things that would have made me happy so I could study or write papers. And I will not get back those days. I made those choices, though, because I felt like that was the sacrifice I had to make to do as well as I have in school.
I get frustrated when people assume that I must love school because I get straight As and do well on standardized tests. It’s the total opposite. I hate the system. I don’t think a grade indicates one’s intelligence. I think the majority of the things we are forced to learn in school are not helpful. They leave important subjects out. I don’t think an SAT score tells you whether or not someone will succeed in college, or life. I don’t care if mine was high – that doesn’t mean shit to me. I’m good at taking tests, but in the long run, who cares about that? That’s not going to change people’s lives. I also don’t think anyone should have to feel the way I feel or make the sacrifices I made to do as well as I did. Someone should be able to live a balanced life while also getting top grades. And some people can, but I think that’s the minority. School shouldn’t be just about doing whatever you need to do to get a grade. How many people bullshit assignments to get by? What happened to actual learning? School is not always education. School is a system.
In college, things continued to spiral downward. From day 1, I didn’t know how I was going to make it through. High school wiped me out, and I didn’t know how I was going to push forward. But I did it. For some reason, I continued to put the pressure on myself, despite the fact that my grades are irrelevant because I have decided to absolutely not go to grad school. The thought of one more day in the education system makes me want to shrivel up like a prune. I have lost all of my steam. I keep telling my friends that I have no idea how I’m going to get through these next 15 weeks. But I’m going to, and I’m going to be so happy when I’m done.
Clearly, the topic of school is very complicated for me. My anxiety and depression are really wrapped up in it, and I know it’s not like that for everyone. My reaction is extreme. A number of therapists have called it a “PTSD-like” response. That being said, I know I am not the only one who feels the intense pressure under this system. So many of us feel like we’re going to crack. The number of suicides that occur because of the pressure breaks my heart. How can we let this continue? No one should feel that hopeless and depressed. There is so much more to life than school, but many of those things are stolen from us because of the way the education system is set up.
It seems like there always has to be a sacrifice somewhere. People tell me they wish they could have my grades, and I think, Trust me, you don’t. It’s not worth it. I wish I was one of those people who just did what they had to do to get by, but focused more on real life. On relationships and hobbies and everything else. But I haven’t been that person. And I feel like my life won’t really start until I can get past this roadblock.
I talk about this with my friends a lot. College is supposed to be a door opener. The key to opportunities! But many of us feel like it’s nothing but a huge obstacle. There are a million productive things I could be doing right now, but instead I’m off to write 20 pages on Indiana Jones. Yes, I am doing that. Has all of school been a waste of time? Of course not. I’ve learned some important things, and having a degree is always valuable. But none of the knowledge I’ll need for my career was found through the education system. In terms of my spiritual and emotional growth, school was nothing but an anchor sending me sinking, and I had to fight to stay afloat.
I’m sure this seems very dramatic to many people. But it might make total sense to others. I believe in education, but I do not believe in our education system. Sadly I resent the system, even though I’ve been “successful” in it. That “success” was at the expense of a lot of different things. And doing well in school is not my definition of success at all. So yeah, I’m excited to be done with the grades and just start my real life. I can’t wait to receive my real education – the things I want to learn, the things that will be useful for me in my life and in my career. But I had to wait 21 years to get there. I just think that life is too short for us to waste any time at all, on anything.
I want to expand on this more, but once again I wrote a short novel, so I’ll leave it here for now. If this resonates with you, please let me know. You’re not alone, I promise. XO