Fighting Tyranny: A Modest Proposal This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     From casually strident conversations bouncing off the glass walls of the cafeteria to whispered banter inching off the stucco walls of the library, one awesome, unfailingly omnipresent word echoes across campus. As Meredith carps about the AP Government exam, Shumaila frets about her upcoming debate tournament and Stephen desperately solicits math help, inevitably the brazen word unveils itself. It knows no subtlety - only an endless narcissistic showcase - and it instills endless agony in every junior I know. This dreaded word I speak of, my friends, is “college.”

My school is not the only institution infected by this terrible disease. Excessive anxiety over college is an ever-intensifying epidemic. Suddenly my peers deem it necessary to take college-level courses, to be a member of numerous clubs, to take classes to prepare for a test originally meant to examine skills acquired in school. And why? We have become obsessed with the idea of acceptance to a superior college.

After years of intense work for that 4.0, we are salivating, craving that fat acceptance letter. We have endured the woes of constructing a mousetrap car in honors physics despite never enjoying science. We have endured the anguish of never receiving a perfect score on an essay despite endless editing. We have endured, and now we want our prize.

Yet what is the point? Peter Jennings, one of the greatest TV anchors ever, did not even complete high school. He became wise and invaluable to viewers not by locking himself in his room to memorize facts but by actually traveling the world. And he started reporting when he was just 17.

High schools place a heavy burden on students to get into college. At mine, college counseling begins the first month of freshman year, a bizarre time to prepare wide-eyed children - who are still getting lost in a new school - for the future. The pressure, however, does not come just from school. My parents, both Harvard alumni, have constantly reminded me of their university of choice since I was in elementary school. Although they add as an afterthought that I can attend whatever college I please, they emphasize the intellectually stimulating environment at Harvard. Of course, in the first two years of college I will not have any real professors, just teaching assistants who lecture 300 students at a time. And yes, many undergraduates are the snobby heirs of wealthy families who own the color yellow. And yes, most of the great professors rarely teach because they are paid to publish. But Harvard is a much better choice than some liberal arts college since “no one has ever heard of Swarthmore.” It’s only the third best liberal-arts school in the nation!

Nevertheless, not everyone who has been accepted to a “first-rate” college is even capable of attending since it can cost $40,000 a year. On the PBS program “Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk,” I watched one student work hard to be accepted to her dream school, but as a first-generation immigrant, she could not pay and ended up at a community college. Despite the diversity she could have added, the elite university and others failed to provide sufficient funds. In the university’s view, it was her privilege to be allowed to attend, not their privilege to have such a unique individual as a student.

College is sucking the very joy out of our lives, condemning us to the “four-year plan” to success. It is confining us to the illusions that if we do not work hard in high school, we will become jobless, alcoholic vagabonds; that success lies only in certain professions. I have yet to go on a date because my parents forbid me from such time-consuming matters as boys, and many of my friends are acquainted with similar captivity. Indeed, college is depriving us of our very humanity, limiting our activities to those we can list on our applications. Something is wrong when one of the few times I see my friends outside of school is at a Red Cross volunteer activity.

How, then, can we halt the madness? The most effective way to communicate that we are tired of standardizing our lives is to boycott college altogether. College, not teachers and parents, is the root of our woes, and once we declare our independence, we will be free to pursue our dreams. We can be the doers of unconventional things. We can form theater troupes and trek across the country putting on Shakespeare plays in animal costumes. We can create medieval bands and perform outside Gothic cathedrals. We can travel the countryside and recite epics from memory like our ancient Greek counterparts. Only when we have attained liberty from the shackles of college can we realize our true dreams. It is a tragedy that so many high-schoolers short-change themselves by focusing solely on college and lacking focus beyond that point. We must break free, and only when colleges are willing to lower tuition and broaden their definition of success should we consider applying.

Some may argue that college students learn invaluable lessons that cannot be discovered in the real world. As a student of five AP courses, however, I can testify that I am studying nothing I could not learn by reading or traveling. AP Spanish, for instance, is but a meager substitute for actually living in a Spanish-speaking country and learning the language firsthand.

An effective boycott will drive colleges to action. It has been done before. In the 1770s, Americans whose livelihoods were at the mercy of British tyranny boycotted British goods and finally drove the Crown to eliminate many taxes. However, when quasi-capitulation was not sufficient, the two sides went to war and the Americans, once viewed as inferior, seized independence. I am not necessarily advocating a complete rejection of college; there are, after all, professors who can serve as wonderful mentors. However, the colonists were not planning at first to completely reject British rule either, but when they recognized their self-sufficiency and ability to form a better system of government, they did so. And if the need presents itself, we can do the same and form our own system of higher education.

So, fellow high-schooler, consider whether the formulaic way you are planning your life is wise. Our power lies in our pocketbooks, and if you fail to take action now, you may find yourself visionless because you wished away all your dreams in high school.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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MortifiedFlesh said...
Oct. 25, 2011 at 3:31 pm
This was a truly inspiring article. I can honestly say that you have made me re-think my own future...
 
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