Success Inside and Outside the Classroom

“Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.”

A 900 point score on the SATs is in the bottom two percent. No school, not even a state university, will accept you with a score that low. With a score like that your teachers will consider you a lost case, your peers will humiliate you, and you will begin to believe the lie they all tell you, that you have failed in life before even turning eighteen. Though you may not want to say it out loud, you too are thinking that this person is a failure.

A high-school classmate of mine who is now finishing up his last year at Stanford posted an article highlighting why Ivy League schools are overrated or even detrimental to receiving a well-rounded education. Written by an insider who studied up through his PhD at Ivy League schools before serving for ten years on the faculty at Yale, he points out how Ivy League schools are producing robots, anxious, fearful, and depressed robots who have an amazing work ethic but are clueless as to how they should use it. He points out that these students never got the chance to build themselves into who they want to become, that success, in terms of SAT scores and grades have dominated their lives in an all encompassing way leaving no room for personal growth. He goes on to point out how even though Ivy League schools now have “diversity,” this diversity consists of wealthy children from different racial groups coming together to learn how to talk, walk, and act like the rich. That these schools produce young-adults who are “content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them,” adults who are very-driven, but lost.

The children who get accepted into these schools have worked their whole lives towards this one goal, and failure, a word they have never heard, is not an option. In a way this is wonderful, we want our children to grow up believing that they can be anyone, but schools like this stress that to be “someone,” you need wealth, status, and a degree from an Ivy League school. This ideology then perpetrates throughout the whole society as these children grown into adults mono-focused on prestige. “It’s considered glamorous to drop out of a selective college if you want to become the next Mark Zuckerberg,” he points out, “but ludicrous to stay in to become a social worker.” He ends his article with a powerful statement: “If schools are going to train a better class of leaders than the ones we have today, they’re going to have to ask themselves what kinds of qualities they need to promote. Selecting students by GPA or the number of extracurriculars more often benefits the faithful drudge than the original mind.”

Reading this article highlighted every reason I chose to travel instead of attending McGill, a Canadian Ivy League equivalent I was enrolled in, once I graduated from high school. I remember the week everyone’s acceptance letters came in. I remember the dozens of students from my class who were accepted into the top schools in America, just as I remember the heart-broken teenagers who felt that their lives had just come crashing down, that they had failed in life before real life had even begun. In my upper-middle class high-school a simple state University was looked down upon (what, no one more prestigious would accept you?), while a forty-grand a year Ivy League school meant that you had succeeded. Of course, not everyone plays by these rules. I personally know well-rounded students who are graduating for Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, but I also know many students who would describe themselves as completely lost, students who have never had the opportunity to venture out of their little bubble and become the person they want to be.

Travel breaks that bubble because as you explore different countries you interact with a diverse range of people from different backgrounds and socio-economic groups of all different ages. You befriend people with different religious and political views than yourself, and you expand your horizon by questioning things you have always taken for granted. I have seen throughout these last few years that you learn more from those with a different opinion than your own than those with the same, a situation that is nearly nonexistent in a classroom setting where everyone around you is the same age, there for the same purpose, and from the same socio-economic circle. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think education is extremely important and vital to the betterment of society, I just think a well-rounded education isn’t received solely from the classroom.

Travel has given me the chance to create myself. It has enabled me to experience sides of our world that I never could have learned about from simply reading an article, and it has enabled me to become passionate about a number of things, from cycling, to women’s rights, to equality. These passions, which time, experience, and travel has allowed me to foster, will shape the rest of my life in a much more meaningful way than anything I could have learned from a textbook. Travel has shown me that happiness and success do not mean wealth or status, and that our ultimate goal should not be pointless prestige. Besides giving me the opportunity to see beautiful places and meet wonderful people, travel has allowed me to shape my own perception about the world we live in and how I want to live in it. As Miriam Bears once said, “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.'”

Now let’s go back to that “failure” I was talking about at the beginning. The one teachers left behind in class because they claimed he would never even graduate from high school due to his reading disability, the one society pushed to believe was a failure since sitting in a classroom just wasn’t his thing. What if, instead of describing this young man’s life in terms of a test score, I told you he is the hardest working most ethical person I have ever met. What if I told you he graduated from OSU, completely debt free, with a bachelors degree in anthropology. What if I told you this person is currently cycling around the world. That’s right, the person I am referring to is Kevin, my boyfriend. Not such a failure if you look at him in terms of a holistic person is he?

One of my favorite parts about meeting other long term travelers, especially cyclists, is the fact that we don’t typically define ourselves by our degrees, career, or wealth as so many people in our society do. We define ourselves by who we want to be, by our passions and our dreams, as we live in a world free of expectations since to most, we are doing the unthinkable.

11 thoughts on “Success Inside and Outside the Classroom

  1. Very true. Academic success is determined more by one’s IQ, while success in life is more a function of one’s EQ. Examples abound of people who have done exceedingly well in life despite having been declared a failure at school. Great post.

  2. Dalai Lama says : if you talk you repeat what you already know, if you listen you learn something new … Love reading your fresh young point of view, keep writing and traveling and sharing please !

    • I love thia article. It really touches on the way I feel about institionalized education. Right now I am working on my PhD and have felt the same robotic symptons at one point in my life. I found myself day in and day out getting into a 9 to 5 mode. I realized that work can be a dark place with no innovation and creativity flowing. It was when I chose to focus on the journey things changed. Seeing the beauty in life and people. Enjoying the world as an learning experience and making it my outdoor classroom. Thanks Shirine for the post.

  3. This has nearly brought a tear to my eyes. Such a beautiful article and written so well. I have just come back from traveling around south east Asia and I agree with everything you have said here. During the middle of my trip I left college to really follow my dreams in the food industry and was so proud I found my self standing for what I really want! Thank you for the share, Bella 🙂 x

      • Shrine I wanted to know if you will be stopping over in Ireland? I live in the lovely west and would love to meet you if you were around anywhere in Ireland.

      • Perfect! I would love to hear about your travels and by what you write you seem like a cool person! Enjoy the rest of your trip and thanks for that post really loved it! Bella 🙂

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