Disillusioned with the enchantment of education

I sit here at this very moment, desperately despondent. It seems like the endless parade of facts marching through my head is slowly blending into a writhing mass of irrelevancy. The large floats from the parade have all but disappeared, being overtaken by the small creatures that live underneath them. Everything is relevant and yet everything is irrelevant.

My life seems to be broken up into little pieces. There is the part of my life involving schoolwork and marks. It seems to be receding into the distance as my other priorities overtake it. There is the part of my life involving friends and family, and it has stayed the same over the past few months, although I seem to be needing more moral support as the time goes on. There is the part of my life involving relaxation and recreation, and this part of my life solely relies on when my favourite TV shows air and how quickly someone can link to them online. There is the part of my life involving healthy eating and exercise, and that part has disappeared behind the shadow of larger issues. I seem to be focusing more on myself than on school, which is unfortunate due to the fact that the singular reason I am at UBC is to get a quality education that I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else.

For the first time in my life, marks don’t bother me. I used to be a straight A student in high school, probably like many of my fellow UBC students. Any mark under an 85% was a disappointment, and the lowest mark I ever finished with in a course was a 78% in grade 12 calculus. Now I find that the steady stream of decaying marks blends into the background for me. I still average 70’s, which I guess is a good mark for university, but to be totally honest, I stopped caring. I still put effort into my papers and tests, but as to which extent those efforts are rewarded, I am indifferent.

My future is uncertain. It fluctuates all the time, and every little decision I make seems to affect it so completely it terrifies me. To have the future I want, I had to submit a portfolio of my heartfelt pieces in order for someone to judge. That seems a bit unfair, doesn’t it? To tear out your heart and put it to music and feel it so passionately it seems like you might explode, then to submit that piece of artwork to a panel of judges so they can determine if you have the ability to pursue your dreams or if you just won’t make the cut? To see your feelings in broad daylight and determine them unworthy for the highest honour of being one of their disciples? I understand that in order to weed out the best composers, they have to make some cuts in their program, but for the love of god, couldn’t they just let me in? I’ve seen other composers who are applying. Some apply just for the fun of it. They posses a certain amount of natural talent, and they decide that they should apply just for the fun of it, leaving people like me, who put their heart and soul into everything that they write, in the shadow of their unsuspecting brilliance. To have five pieces of music determine your entire future? Seems a bit weighty for a few flimsy pieces of paper which surely won’t last very long in the grand scheme of things.

It’s been raining a lot lately. The dull drizzle of cloud tears seems never ending, and it seems to fit the moods of the students with midterms perfectly. Sunshine is a rare commodity, and when it comes, it’s usually so unexpected that no one has time to enjoy it and savour the few moments in the light.

Wouldn’t it be nice if professors actually understood their students? that the menial and tedious time consuming work they think will help us understand a little bit of their subject is actually just detracting from the quality of our education? that being in university doesn’t mean having no life outside of schoolwork and practicing? that in order to become a successful musician you have to have the ability to form lasting relationships that they seem to warn you against using the powers of endless homework and papers?

And in the grand scheme of things, why does this even matter? Why should our futures be determined, to a certain extent, by a piece of paper with a signature from someone important and our names on it? What is it that makes us so important, and the tasks that we complete so paramount to our success? Who had the idea that in order to mean something in the world, we had to get a degree first? that we will not be equals because an education is something only the wealthier of society deserve? that status in society is determined solely by wealth and schooling? Shouldn’t we all be able to enjoy our time on earth doing what we love? Because in the end, we will all become small particles floating in the air, completely equal to each other, regardless of literacy or how we lived our life.

It feels like summer will never come.

2 Thoughts.

  1. Great piece! Turns out that I’m not the only one mulling the future amidst the torrential downpour. I can definitely relate to your feeling of being bombarded by a litany of facts, many of which seem irrelevant at the time. I have the feeling that many professors, after having studied in their specific discipline for so long, don’t realize that it’s not easy for students to extricate meaning from the writhing mass of facts, equations, and definitions they present.

    But as much as I’m loathe to generalize, it’s nearly always been the case that at some point in the future, those facts tend coalesce into something entirely different; more often that not, this something adds vibrancy and insight into my life, in the form of new perspectives that I would have never seen coming at the time.

    Regarding university and getting a degree: I have a similar sentiment, in that university should not, and cannot be the measure of you as person. It especially doesn’t help that large research-based universities seem to take the ‘path of least resistance,’ with the necessity of catering to huge student populations. The tasks that we complete become the measure of our success because it’s the easiest thing to administer. To try to measure other intangibles, like personality, or ‘intelligence’, would be more difficult; and inevitably tougher on the budget, which really underpins everything. On the other hand, the situation isn’t nearly as bad as in the US, where there’s a much starker contrast between universities, with the top universities getting a vastly disproportionate amount of resources (not to mention prestige).

    On your last point: there’s no easy way to resolve an existential crisis. I find solace in the scientific perspective: that whether it be tomorrow, the day after, or an interminable expanse of time thereafter, we’re going to reunite with the fundamental constituents of the universe from whence we came. What we do in the meantime is entirely up to us; but if I will have enjoyed my life, helped others to seek and revel in its beauty, and helped preserve it for future generations, then it will have been a life well-lived, irrespective of educational or monetary attainment. Or the rain, for that matter.

    I think a particular quote from the infamously quixotic physicist Richard Feynman resonates with your plight:
    “I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”


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