It is finals time for students attending post -secondary education (PSE), which means my Facebook, and Twitter has been riddled with students venting their frustrations and expressing their excitement for the “freedom” that awaits in the future if only they can get past the “torture” of studying and exams. Reading the status updates stating “10 days until Freedom,” “Can’t wait until this torture is over,” “3 exams until Freedom” and many others didn’t sit well with me. I mulled it over and decided to post my own food for thought trying to aptly articulate my frustration with the lack of gratitude with having the ability to pursued PSE. I posted:
“Why are people complaining about how exams are impeding their "freedom"? Yes, studying and exams are stressful, but obtaining a post-secondary education is a choice (and an investment in your future) that you (or your parents) pay to be able to participate in, and an opportunity that many are not fortunate to have. Unless your professors are locking you in cages or taking away your ability to speak or think...then maybe, just maybe your "freedom" is in question. The fact that you have the ability to pursue a post-secondary education in something that you have chosen is in itself something to be grateful for.”
What then occurred is an interesting experiment of sorts in social media, as well as an opportunity for me to reflect on my own personal approach and strategies that I employ to get messages which I am passionate about across to others. In a short half hour my post, which I did not foresee to be overly contentious received a significant amount of attention resulting in 70 “likes” and several wide-ranging comments. Some echoed my sentiment with the and some encouraged more discussion.
One commenter stated, “I get you. It's hard to argue that studying and / or paper-writing constitute true losses of freedom, when you spend any time at all around people who spend the better part of their days locked in a jail cell (more or less for the crime of being poor and racialized) BUT, I will say that I am guilty of making "freedom" comments sometimes, and I will say that I think there is a little more validity to them than you give credit for.
Freedom isn't the right word to use. Fair criticism, but when you spend years of your life, toiling away writing papers for profs who probably don't care if you learn anything, and go thousands of dollars into debt, only to discover that you can earn a higher wage working at a restaurant, than taking the research job the requires your degree; it's kind of hard to blame people if they don't always see their education as life greatest privilege.
Of course, this doesn't change the fact that education IS a privilege.”
To which I responded, “Ultimately whether you choose to pursue a post-secondary education or not is your choice. If you feel that your professors don't care if you learn anything and the debt you choose to go into as a result of pursuing education are other issues but at the end of the day you are making the choice to pursue a post-secondary education because it has value to you which outweighs those other things. Education is a privilege, but it shouldn’t be. Education should be a right that everyone regardless of background, socioeconomic status or life circumstances should have access to, but until that happens we need to be especially mindful that we have choices and options and comparing University exams to "torture" or loss of "freedom" trivializes those that do not have the opportunity to pursue an institutional education is something that they choose.
I have been a student for many years (and likely will be again) and I realize that its stressful, challenging, difficult, and frustrating but it is a choice, and not the only way to become educated (and also often doesn't result in a higher paying job depending on what you choose to study) but one that many people choose to participate in because they place value on it.”
I attempted to reiterate that my intent was not to shame students for their personal feelings and experiences in academia, but more so my intent was that sometimes we (myself included) need to be reminded of how lucky we are so that we can be grateful for the opportunities we do have rather than focus on how hard, frustrating, challenging or “tortuous’ it feels at the time. Gratitude is not something that comes easy or naturally and it is certainly not something I have mastered. It is something that I personally need to be reminded of every day, multiple times, and is also something that requires effort and a shift in perspective.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day and forget about what really matters to you. It’s easy to loose perspective. Its easy to lose sight of those things and focus on how awful it frustrating it feels to be stuck in traffic on the way to work, how difficult it feels to focus on writing a paper when you aren’t sure if your professor cares if you write it or not, and how disheartening it feels when you feel isolated, insignificant or alone.
We ended our “discussion” agreeing to disagree. With the content of my post and also with the methods that I employed to get my message across which gave me the opportunity for a lot of reflection. Reflection that will continue long after I publish this post. Reflection that will force me to confront what I said, what I could have said, and how I articulate my thoughts and present myself. I am always pushing myself to be better, to learn more, to hone skills that I place a priority on. To listen to others, to try to see how my actions, words and behaviours effect them, and then to think about how that in turn has an effect on me.
I am grateful that I have the opportunity to explore. To push myself. To grow and develop. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to learn and grow both in and out of academic institutions and from talented and inspiring role models. I want to express gratitude for so much, for I have many things to be grateful for. Hopefully I will remember that tomorrow.