I get increasingly uncomfortable with the whole idea of academia as time passes.
Okay, maybe that's not true - if anything, I'm extraordinarily comfortable with the idea of academia, the academy, higher and graduate education. There's something sexy and romantic about a place where ideas are exalted; where the whole point of everything boils down to thinking, intellectualism, and knowledge. That is attractive and sexy and beautiful.
But, in some senses, formal education – especially at the higher levels of it – encounters some of the same problems of other spaces where things start to be more about theory and ideas than the physical and logistical realities of the world (namely, the internet). Some of those problems include a lot of people thinking they’re way more clever than they actually are, people becoming ignorant of the world that exists outside of the academy (and I mean the real world, not what they’ve read about in books or essays, or what they encountered when they studied abroad – or, if we’re talking about the internet, the world that exists outside of Wikipedia or their favorite message boards), and often enough the development of a sense of elitism over people who are not in their particular club (this can range from people who aren’t in academia/grad school to people who aren’t studying 19th century Petrarchan sonnets written by queer, one-legged men with glass eyes).
But that’s not even the point – I’m making this about other people, and putting my shit on them. The fact is, everybody (okay, not everybody – but really, the majority of people) I know in grad school, who’ve been through grad school, in academia, or who’ve been in academia are very nice people, when it comes down to it. Okay, ‘very nice’ seems a little insipid – but they tend to be interesting, engaged, intellectually curious, a little nerdy, and charming. In some ways, these people represent my tribe. But the problem is (as it often is) that I have many tribes. And the problem with that is that the ivory tower is real – I think all this studying really does present the danger of taking you away from people, places, things, and yes, even ideas that aren’t in that world – that can’t really exist in that world.
Further, I feel as though despite the fact that education can open so many doors for a person – can in some ways, offer someone the machete to cut through the jungle undergrowth of complacency and ignorance that threatens to engulf anybody who sits still intellectually (or otherwise) for too long (that’s right, I brought it with the guerrilla warfare metaphor, which may seem like it totally contradicts my whole point, but bear with me – this is [part of] what’s funny about academia: everybody seems to think he, she, or it is a fucking guerrilla – at least in the humanities and social sciences) – when it comes down to it, you’re not really learning to think ‘outside the box’ – you’re just learning to think inside a different, more oddly shaped one.
Which, okay, look. Most of us need boxes to think in. We need context, we need structure, we need a basis on which to set (or justify) our principles, or our ideas about the world, or at least a platform on which to rest all the neat things that we learn. The problem is that the world is not a box, life is not a box. Boxes are meant for storage, not for living in, and while they can make you comfortable, they also don’t let you grow past a certain point. So the lesson, then, is not to let education of any kind define you, but to use it as the tool it was meant to be, right? I guess so.
I like grad school. I like the fact that thinking and learning are considered important enough ways to spend my time that the government will lend me money to do it. And I think I’m learning useful things – things of practical importance as well as things that benefit my personal and intellectual growth. But I’m suspicious of it – there’s a lot of privilege here, and what’s more dangerous, a lot of privilege that doesn’t even really know it’s privilege. I mean, by grad school, privilege is looked upon as an accepted idea – most people who make it to grad school have enjoyed privilege at one point or another in their lives (most, not all). But because of that, people don’t actually realize how privileged they really are, which is yet another way that people disconnect from the world that most people are experiencing.
That’s disconcerting, because the fact of the matter is, I don’t want to be Rigoberta Manchu; I don’t even want to live through the struggles my parents did, and I don’t want to be without the opportunity to educate myself or further myself. I certainly don’t want to forget the fact that life is hard – much harder than mine – in so many places. And truthfully, I’m not going to be able to forget that, ever, because I’ve lived through things way harder (and more ‘real,’ whatever that means) than grad school. I think it’s good that I’m still uncomfortable. The honeymoon is over, and I’m back to the constant struggle between wanting to embrace the place where I am and wanting to tell it to go fuck itself.