Some Thoughts as I Return To School

Hello readers. I hope you all enjoyed the address from Snickers, the queen. She is right that I absolutely love and adore her, but I should point out that while Snickers says I favor Gilbert, Gilbert is jealous because I give too much love and attention to Snickers! I just cannot win, I tell you! So I guess sibling rivalry is alive and well in both my human and animal family. But I will concede that Snickers has a right to be a little insulted since Gilbert gets so much more attention in this journal than she does, and for that, I offer my most sincere apology and will strive to ensure they are both mentioned more equally since they have both proven they have an awesome and innate ability to add some fun and life to this journal because unfortunately, the demands of the human life do not always allow me to have the constantly sunny disposition they have, especially when the responsibilities of school return to my life. Speaking of school, though I hate to end this glorious summer with a somewhat depressing entry about returning to the reality of school, this time of year always sparks so many thoughts and emotions that I feel an overwhelming need to express before they are buried under stressful thoughts about the homework ahead of me, and mountains of information my brain must store, at least until after exams.

     I often feel guilty when I complain about going to school. After all, the slaves back in the 1800s, and marginalized citizens in third world countries today would give anything to have the chance to go to school, and in some places like Afghanistan, women risk their lives by going to school because the Taliban does not want women to be educated. Even in the United States, you hear about too many schools that are centers of poverty and violence, rather than learning and possibility, or schools where budget constraints and sometimes negative attitudes about the capabilities of children with disabilities means they don’t always get the quality education they deserve. But I have always gone to wonderful schools staffed with teachers who saw any technology I needed to give me an equal education to that of my sighted peers as a worthwhile investment, and who set high expectations for me, telling me never to let my disability stop me from dreaming big. I have never known poverty or violence, and never had to risk my life for an education. Yet despite how blessed and fortunate I know I am when I think about the less fortunate circumstances, even for people just a few miles away in the inner city schools, I still complain about having to go to school, especially this time of year.

     While I don’t want to claim to be a philosopher, I cannot help notice that I am not alone in my dread of going back to school, and I wonder if this seemingly universal gloominess that comes with the arrival of each new school year is due to the fact that when you have had access to education all of your life, you cannot appreciate how fortunate you really are. And if you live under a government that places so much value on education that it is required of you, and are surrounded by parents and teachers who share these values, you may view education as something you groan and go along with because it is the law, or because it is expected of you by your parents. Ultimately, this means that for people who long for education but live in areas where the culture surrounding them doesn’t value education, school is viewed as their gate to freedom from poverty, and a better life for themselves and their children, while many affluent Americans view school as a prison where they must serve a twelve year minimum sentence in order to earn the freedom of adulthood. The reason I am making these uncharacteristically philosophical speculations is because I think that though I didn’t have the ability to articulate these thoughts as a child, this is often how I felt at the beginning of each new school year.

     Alright, I know a lot of you readers might say this prison analogy is a little harsh, but just play along with me for a few minutes and think about it. When you were a child, didn’t you ever feel imprisoned by crowded stuffy classrooms where you sat for hours at a time struggling through pointless math problems, or listening to teachers rambling about history, grammar or science while the rest of the world passed by outside the window, making you feel as if you were wasting your life away? Did you not feel imprisoned by the bells that rang every hour, at the sound of which you were expected to robotically hurry to your next class, which for me was the same class, at the same time five days a week in high school? Didn’t you feel imprisoned by strict teachers who required you to have a pass just to use the bathroom, and robbed you of precious lunch and recess hours to finish work simply because you work at a slower pace than the rest of the class. Surely, you felt imprisoned by the homework which dominates so many after school hours you don’t really get to have a life outside of school, and the teachers who gave detentions if you just needed a break from these pointless assignments for once, deciding to go to bed early or enjoy a movie with your parents who won freedom from the bonds of homework when they entered the adult world. School vacations, especially summer vacation offered a temporary release from this imprisoning routine, but while the beginning of summer vacation is characterized with feelings of joy and freedom, the whole month of August was always marked with gloomy feelings when I realized that it wouldn’t be long before I would have to surrender my freedom and return to the prison of school, even when I was mature enough to understand the necessity of education and how lucky I am to have access to it.

     However, I must say that ever since I started college, I have not been quite as depressed about returning to school. Don’t get me wrong. I still feel a little imprisoned by boring classes, and though I always start each school year convinced this will be the year I get my homework done efficiently so I have plenty of time for more pleasurable pursuits, I know by the end of the first week, I will be so hopelessly overwhelmed by homework that always takes me longer to complete than I think, that this very well could be the last journal entry I have time to write until Christmas. And I still get a little bit of a melancholy feeling because the end of summer, characterized by the sleepy, mournful songs of the cicadas by day, and the choir made up of thousands of crickets that come out after dark, followed by autumn, characterized by the wonderful aroma of ripe apples in the air, and the peaceful lullaby sound of the wind dispersing the crunchy dead leaves, are such beautiful seasons that I feel like I have to tune out once school starts, leaving me with the feeling one might get if forced to leave a lovely concert right at the climax of its beauty. But yet, since I have started college, my sadness about leaving summer behind isn’t quite as deep.

     Part of the reason for this could be that the routine isn’t so monotonous because I don’t have every class every day. In fact, a lot of classes at my college don’t meet on Wednesdays, so with the exception of first semester sophomore year when I had two classes that met on Wednesdays, I have gotten Wednesdays off all semester. This semester, I will have one class that meets for fifty minutes four days a week, two classes that meet two hours twice a week, and one class that only meets once a week for three and a half hours. When I am not in class, unlike high school where you were required to fill any free hours with study halls in an assigned classroom, in college, how you spend free hours is your decision. Usually, I end up using them to study anyway because there is so much work to do, but just knowing that I could go home early, take a walk outside on a beautiful day or chat with a friend in the coffee shop if I wanted to is exhilarating. Also, I have never missed a class except when I wasn’t feeling well around the time of my ovarian cyst surgery last year, and never would skip class without a legitimate reason like that because I am a serious student, and because that would be pretty disrespectful to my parents who are paying my tuition, and my conscience would bother me so much I wouldn’t enjoy the time. But it is so exhilarating to know that if I were to skip class, I wouldn’t be chased down by cops to face truancy charges, and my parents would not be called. So even though college is more demanding than high school in many ways, this variety in my routine, and the fact that I am treated like an adult and trusted to make my own decisions means I feel a lot less imprisoned in my college education.

     But I think the larger reason for my more positive outlook at the start of each year of college is the simple fact that college is not required, and therefore, not everyone goes to college. I don’t mean to sound elitist and snobby when I make this statement, and unfortunately, there are too many people who would love to go to college, but don’t have access to colleges where they live, or cannot afford higher education. I hope that Barack Obama, or some president in the near future can reform policies so that everyone who wants higher education can pursue it, but it is not my intention to put down anyone who couldn’t go to college, or chose not to go to college. My point is that since college is not required, people who have access and choose to pursue a college education are a more mature group of people. Of course, it is true that these days, it is difficult to find a job and be successful without a college education, so a lot of people who might have loved to be done with school and go right to work after high school in a less competitive world, decide they need to go to college. One day when I was younger, I was talking with my sister and her husband about what the college atmosphere is like, and now that I am in the college world, I realize the truth behind one particular comment my sister’s husband made. He said that just like in high school classes, the students don’t want to be there, but in college, they understand that they need to be there. This is exactly the attitude I see in my college classes, and I love it. I think that simply being with a group of people who understands why they need education creates a more pleasant, less imprisoning atmosphere. Disrespect toward professors, at least at my college, is extremely rare, and even though I mentioned earlier that in college I could skip class because parents would not be called, I don’t skip, and despite the lack of parental supervision, most of the other students don’t skip class either, because since college is not mandatory, so their parents really cannot force them to go, they most likely would not have enrolled in college until they themselves have acquired the maturity to value this higher education. But I think it is not only your choice whether to go to college that makes higher education more liberating, but also the fact that it is your choice what to study in college. Of course, there are still general education requirements, especially for freshmen and sophomore years. However, although I hated taking Statistics since I am a writing person, not a math person, I didn’t get such a deep feeling that what I was learning served no purpose because instead of crunching numbers just for the sake of doing it, the teacher gave us word problems, and showed how knowledge of statistical operations would be useful in our diverse majors. But in addition to general education classes, in college you have more smaller, specialized classes directly related to the major you chose, allowing you to develop wonderful friendships with people who share your interests, and be more engaged and passionate about learning since the subject matter of the courses are tailored to your interests. Of course, sometimes even classes related to your interests can be boring, but it is so much easier to persevere and stay engaged in these classes when you know that what you are learning will serve a larger purpose in your chosen career, long after the final exam.

     Or maybe I became more optimistic once I started college because after fourteen years of education that could be compared to climbing a mountain at times, I saw college as the final lap on this climb. My college years have absolutely flown by too, and I cannot believe I am already a junior this year, which means I only have two more years on my educational climb before I reach the promise land of adulthood where all of the skills you learned through the educational climb can be put to use making a larger difference in the world. And on that note, I will sign off because while I wrote most of these thoughts yesterday on my last day of summer vacation, as I finish this entry, I am in the technology center at my college after my first class of this new year, and I want to study hard and make excellent grades so my arrival in this promise land is not delayed. So I guess it’s time to stop blogging, pull out my syllabus and start studying again.

Published by Allison Nastoff

As I write this in 2020, I am 30 years old. I am blind, and Gilbert was my first guide dog. He passed away on December 2, 2020, but I decided to keep the title for my blog as a tribute to him because he will always hold a special place in my heart. In 2012, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication with a journalism emphasis, and went back to school for a Paralegal certificate in 2014. I worked for five years at a Social Security disability firm. When the pandemic hit, I did some reflecting and decided to resign from this job and take seminary courses. My dream is a career as a teacher or writer where I can be a blessing to others.

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