Gigi, my lovely grandmother, my sister and I went out to lunch to Free Birds—a place I don’t really recommend for grandmothers, but whatever. I don’t really know what we were talking about, but I do remember a very unforgettable one-liner from Gigi.
Now before I give you that one-liner, let me just give you a little background about my grandma. She comes from Jamaica, where she lived until her early thirties before moving to the U.S. Here, she took up a profession as a pre-school teacher. Back in the day (and maybe still today, I’m not sure), you didn’t need a college degree to be a pre-K teacher. So, unsurprisingly given her native country and the times, she didn’t get one.
Let me also note that Gigi is a very…opinionated woman. She’ll tell you how it is without a drop of remorse. She’ll tell you, dear waiter, if she thinks you’re rude or providing poor service. She’ll tell you not to dare call her “honey” if you’re not older than she is. Yep, Gigi is one of those. And yet when she loves, she loves unconditionally and with a love that fills you to the brim.
In other words, my grandmother is a real character.
So when she said during our conversation, “College people think they know everything,” in the snarkiest tone of voice she could muster (and she is a master at snark), I wasn’t particularly surprised but I was certainly intrigued.
Often when I visit my family at home and start spouting off some facts and figures and theories and “scholarly” opinions, I get the cold shoulder. I get rolls of the eyes and a few scoffs. I get groans that clearly mean, “Oh, for the love of God, here she goes again. Know-it-all.”
Don’t get me wrong: my family has supported me with all the encouragement and love in the world as I’ve pursued my degrees. Gigi gets choked up when she tells me how proud of me she is. My mom brags (a little too much, probably) to everyone with whom she comes into contact. And my entire family has been pushing me to go to college since I was born. Literally.
But such seemingly contradictory behavior can’t be written off as just hypocrisy. Just because the members of my family don’t have a college education doesn’t mean their opinions about college grads and academes are invalidated. In fact, they really have a point.
We “college people”—and by that I think she meant students and graduates alike—really do think we know it all. But as I near the end of my college career, I can’t help but feel that while knowing all the facts and figures that I know because of my university education is important, it really doesn’t give me a full picture of reality.
The problem with academia that I have found is that it sucks the life out of life. It reduces reality to numbers and measurements. And while these certainly are important—especially for practically creating and applying policies and programs—it sometimes means that the practitioners of academia lose a little bit of their own humanity. We start to see the world in analytical terms, and we kind of forget that, oh yeah, we’re studying humans.
This is especially true for people who study humanities because it seems like everything we study is relevant to the here and now almost always.
Thinking analytically, though, can kind of take away from living.
It’s hard for me to admit that the thing I love—and I mean love—is also the thing that drains me the most. I am a nerd for school. I see the potential it has for the improvement of individuals’ lives and for the health of whole communities, nations and the world. But something about it has to change. We can’t go to school to gain knowledge only to give up the things that make us human.
I used to write poetry. I used to be an artist. I used philosophize and daydream. I used to read books just to read books, just because they were beautiful. Since college it has become harder and harder to do those things. In some cases, it’s become impossible. I’ve become sucked up in the whirlwind of academia and the pressure to fix this, analyze that. I forget that my reality is beyond a textbook or journal article, that I am not defined by academia, that I am indeed a person. Academia can in a sense desensitize us to our own personhood.
Why is it that our schools—the factories that produce future generations—don’t value good old-fashioned living? Why is it that building up “human capital” comes at the expense of making robots out of humans? Why does the neoliberal agenda reduce education to mere economic investment in the next generation? And most importantly, why do our schools essentially look the same way they did 200 years ago?
Somewhere, we’re missing the mark. Our complacency is (melodramatic as it seams) deadening. The standard of satisfaction has remained the same—if it hasn’t lowered—for centuries now, and that just doesn’t make sense.
It sounds like we need some good old-fashioned radicalism.