The Aging Paradox

This piece never ceases to ease my fear of getting older, and being an older student than most undergraduates. Among other social groups, every college student can identify with that subconscious urgency of “getting there.” Is this rooted in American society’s capitalistic, caffeine-driven, climb to the top nature? Is it a part of the competitive disposition of human beings, who throughout our existence have dominated, hunted, and manipulated for our right to the continuing genome? Or is it something entirely different?

Whatever your take on the nature vs. nurture debate, the competitive state of our academic system is a manifestation of this. We exhaust ourselves with test requirements for entrances and graduations, grade point averages that are accurate to the hundredth of a point, and rigorous documentation of every class and how it fulfills requirements towards a major or graduation. There’s a hypocrisy in the system: students are coaxed and cooed with ideals that insinuate appreciation of how material corresponds to the changing world around us, and can be immediately used to better our understanding, our lives, and our society. But the system, for all its hype surrounding individuality, personal growth, and development, is still structured around the standardization of what classes we are required to take and what those classes are required to teach.

For our general education requirements, we must take a certain amount of math, English, foreign language, and social sciences. We write a certain number of pages for a certain number of classes (in Florida all students are required to complete the strictly quantitative Gordon Rule requirement); and even attend classes for a summer term. What are the real motivations behind these requirements? Similar uniformity is seen in every major. In English, technical and professional writers are required to take literature classes, even though their contribution to the study will have nothing to do with Shakespeare, Hemingway, or Milton. For so much individualism, that sounds quite generic.

A good point about higher education, to counter my cynicism: it's catching up. Yancey makes a good point in her article “Made Not Only in Words” (this is the same article I referenced in my introduction) when she talks about the dissipation of English undergraduate degrees since 1985. The number of English students has declined, but this has nothing to do with the study’s waning or (sigh of relief) disappearing altogether. English is evolving, and has splintered new schools of thought with new titles, like Journalism and Communication. This is a good sign; the education is tailoring to the interests of the student population, not the other way around.

Bottom line: the more broad the topic, the class, the degree... the less wiggle room for free student expression, the less interest in education, and the continuation of graduating seniors who still haven't found a niche.

So this is part of my own personal journey through this piece. One of my favorite things about this film is how I catch different things every time. Works that sounded too foreign or boring brought epiphanies after another view. A professor of mine, Dr. Hallock, once told me, "if you are uninterested in a work, go back and look again. There's probably something there you didn't understand." Call me idealistic, too optimistic, whatever you want: I think there's something in every piece of writing that speaks to anyone. The trick is learning the language.

I should say, despite this rant, that for the record I find this piece to be a sigh of relief to all the hustle. The first time I watched this movie, the last line of this piece was the one I took with me. "And the funny thing is, our cells are completely regenerating every seven years, we’ve already become completely different people several times over. And yet we always remain quintessentially ourselves." How empowering is that? You have literally shed your past, and will always have a clean slate for the future. That's your pysiological right, as a human being. But we will always have our perceived self, our identity, and that's your cognitive right, because you are a human being.


Anonymous said...

I complete agree with the thought that we (students) are exhausting ourselves with test requirements, entrance exams, and GPA's when we should be focusing on what we are taking away from all of those prerequisites that can apply to our daily lives. In contradiction I also feel that having some structure to the system is important because in engrains something in the mind that can be explored through other venues specific to each person.


Casey said...


Yeah, this really is a hotly debated topic! It's not just an issue for students, but also the teachers, politicians, and potential employers. Everyone is looking for individuals with a mind of their own, who can do a little more than recite memorized information.

When it comes to the structure of the system, I think we need a little (or a lot) of remodeling so we can achieve this. I think that students who graze the surface of many unrelated fields aren't nearly as educated as the students who stick to their interests within a specific one or two fields. They show more interest and take more control over their the direction of their college (and professional) career.

A perfect example of this is foreign language requirements. Teachers, professionals, and students alike agree that to master a foreign language requires more than two semesters of study. In a couple semesters a good student could learn enough to understand and partake in basic convesations, and read/write enough to communicate at an intermediate level. No matter how interested or enthusiastic they may be, it's unlikely the student will be able to utilize the knowledge gained from the foreign language class in the future if they don't keep up with their studies in it. If you don't use it, you lose it; if it isn't necessary for their profession they will lose it.

Why not invest that semester time into something that will benefit the student (and indirectly everyone relying on the student) for their longterm goals?

Rafael RĂ­os said...

One of my favorites movies ever!