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Why I Like College: Thoughts on Freedom & Growing Up
A little song about a child breaking free from his parents
When I was younger going through grammar school, junior high, and high school, school was not an entirely unpleasant experience. Still, as a general rule, school was a place that I would prefer to avoid. At times, it was the closest that I have ever felt to being in prison. I still remember gazing outside the fence as the cars drove by, a constant reminder that the normal world still existed. I also remember how exciting it was when some element of the outside world would burst into the school environment. In grammar school, for instance, there were few things as exciting as a dog running onto campus. You would think that the children had never seen this kind of creature before. Equally exciting were those rare occasions when a student might get a television in a classroom to pick up cartoons or any other kid-oriented show. Suddenly, some joyous aspect of the world outside had invaded the alternate universe of school. And if you ever ran into a teacher outside of the school environment, the experience could be equally disconcerting. Suddenly, the two worlds in which you lived your life had crossed paths, and you fully realized, at least for a moment, that teachers had lives outside of the classroom.
When I taught junior high and high school, I often had the same feeling of being trapped. Classes proceeded one after another, with only short breaks for lunch and a prep period. Each day of the workweek proceeded in the same repetitive, frequently exhausting manner. For about seven hours a day, I, like my students, was stuck in the world of school.
College, however, was an entirely different experience for me. Academically, of course, it was much more difficult. The feel, routine, and flow of college life, however, bore little resemblance to what I had always associated with school. Classes no longer proceeded one after another, and the schedule each day varied. Between classes, I was no longer obligated to stay in some enclosed environment called school. I could go off campus, get in a few games of basketball, or squeeze in some ice cream or lunch. And although I was generally a responsible student, I had the satisfaction of knowing that I could just skip class entirely if the need (or desire) arose. This was no longer some contained, enclosed space in which I was obligated to be in a specific place and perform a set of tasks for a standardized amount of time every day of the week. The campus felt more open, the schedule more flexible, and the education less mandatory. In other words, it no longer felt like a prison.
Just as I enjoyed being a college student so much more than my previous school experiences, I have found a home as a community college instructor. My job has the same benefits and rhythms as college student life, and I am no longer working with students who are trapped and obligated to be there. I cannot skip out of class so easily, of course, and I cannot “zone out” in the classroom as I occasionally did as a student. As a teacher, you must always be “on.” Still, I love the fact that the work is broken up into smaller doses, and I do not face the same routine every day. I also get the added benefit of the same vacations and holidays that I enjoyed as a student. Maybe after being a college student for so long, I naturally gravitated back to campus life. Sometimes, I feel like I never grew up and joined the “real world.” It just took a little while to get back to the place where I most felt that I belonged.
As I get older, it gets more difficult to remember what it was like when I was young. Like many people, I often romanticize my childhood. I look back longingly to a time when my needs were taken care of and I did not have all of the worries and responsibilities of an adult. It is easy to forget, however, one of the biggest downsides of childhood. As children, we all faced severe limitations on our freedom. We could not eat what we wanted, go to bed when we felt like, or hop in a car and go for a drive. Parents, hopefully for our own good, were always telling us what to do. Adulthood has its drawbacks, but at least we old people have more freedom to choose.
As both a college student and teacher, I have seen over the years a lot of college students who could not handle the enhanced freedom of the college environment. When education became more optional, some tended to flake out. For me, however, college was my first taste of the freedom that comes with adulthood. Today, I feel blessed to work in an environment where I am surrounded by others who are going through that same transition. If they embrace the opportunities that college provides, that’s fantastic. If they do not, it’s their life. No one is forcing them to be there any more.