I recently read Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence. I thought it was a fabulous novel — I loved the characters and the plot and I could talk a lot more about those — but the message of education particularly caught me/
Frances, the protagonist, has only one goal: studying English at Cambridge university. It’s all she’s ever wanted. And…her story really struck a chord with me. I’m quite an academic person, and I tend to be good at exams. But I don’t feel — like I’ve worked that hard for that, you know? Obviously I do revise. Yet I it isn’t like like I’ve poured my soul into it. I hate that my academic success can be the only thing that defines me. I’m the smart, quiet girl.
Of course I’m incredibly grateful that by some miracle I slightly understand exams. (I feel extremely arrogant for saying that. I REALLY DON’T MEAN IT TO SOUND THAT WAY.) So much of our life depends on them, yet I don’t feel particularly pleased with the school system; even as it’s benefitting me. I don’t like that my entire life is focused and depends on a few hours in an exam hall. I’ll be the first to stress that being good at exams is not the same as being intelligent. People tell me that “It’s easy for me to say,” since I’m the one getting good grades. But I don’t feel intelligent because I made up some waffle English analysis. I really dislike seeing that genuinely clever people are upset by feeling worthless just because they didn’t get a good mark in an exam. It seems incredibly upsetting and anxiety-provoking.
A lot of people think I love English. It’s true that I do love words. That does not mean I want to study English at A-Level or university. I don’t enjoy analysing books. I like writing, but I feel like it’s something you can hone alone. As far as I can see creativity is sucked more and more out of the school English curriculum as you progress. I don’t want to spoil Radio Silence for you, but I really appreciated the message that uni isn’t for everyone. It’s okay to want to do other stuff. You don’t have to take the one that will look best to other people.
I would like my entire school life to not be focused around getting a job. Of course that’s super important to support yourself as an adult, but I’m not living just to earn money and survive. I’m not learning just to earn money. If I enjoy a subject, odds are it’s because I’m interested. I just want to learn it! I want to make new discoveries and find elegant methods and analysis or ANYTHING. Doing everything for a job is like…doing everything for money. They’re very closely linked. Having a job and money does not equal happiness.
We all like books about adventures, or with wonderful character relationships. Characters who just sit there and work hard are deemed boring goody two-shoes, even if we’re told studying is a good thing. And I know life isn’t a book. I wish people would remember that life isn’t spending all your time in a textbook, either.
It’s amazing that I’ve had the oppurtunities I do — I mean, I go to a good school (and I can go to school). I know I’m addressing all the problems with no solutions, but still: I feel like there should be some better way to do thing. With less of a focus on academia and exams, or something. School can be so stress-inducing. (It’s probably the number one source of anxiety for me, at least.) I wish that we weren’t told that we have to do everything in order to go to uni and get a good job and earn money. Our lives are not defined by a letter on a piece of paper.*
*OR MAYBE A NUMBER. If they change the grade system like they’re planning to, because everyone needs confusing more. Ahem.