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I thought I had survived the worst of the “What are your plans next year?” questions after my senior year of high school, but damn, was I wrong. At least then I had an answer. Now, when people ask me about post-grad plans, I awkwardly waffle between “I have no idea” and “probably nothing,” while the inquisitors mask their disapproval.
I’ve found that the best response in these delightful interactions is to make them uncomfortable. “I’m actually gonna be an exotic dancer in Brazil,” or, “Oh next year? Yeah, I have a whole five-year-plan to build a Lego city.” It keeps me on my toes.
When I realized how much worse this four-year anniversary of absolute uncertainty was than the last, I became instantly frustrated, because I once had a definite plan for my post-grad years — acting school, casting calls, Broadway performances, hot movie star husband and piles of cash to swim in when I wasn’t in my infinity pool. Fast-forward three years and I’m an international affairs and political science major who wants to get paid to eat nachos.
My first vision of my future emerged in kindergarten, but what happened to all of that creativity between elementary school and college? I used to have far more exciting dreams. Childhood engaged my creativity, and that’s when I imagined a future filled with stages and co-stars and standing ovations.
Now our generation, myself included, is obsessed with resumes and job security. Once we were told to color within the lines, we left our creativity behind. Public school is the culprit, having systematically beat us into cookie-cutter molds of students.
Since childhood, we’ve been churned through the public school system. It works to include everyone and treat them all the same; hoping to get at-risk students into better academic positions, while simultaneously supporting the overachievers.
Public school has created standardized ideas of success. We’re told there’s one right answer — going to a four year college, and anything else is failure. Visual learners aren’t catered to, and if you don’t test well, then too bad. Teachers replace our faces with benchmark test results, SAT scores and GPAs.
It’s all about numbers — get the most kids into college, get the highest national ratings, and produce the highest grade averages. They claim that they want us to succeed, to go forward and do great things. I call bullshit. They’re done with us after we go to college, but we’re the ones who actually have to navigate the future.
I’m not on my own here, either. Organizations like United Opt Out and FairTest combat the oppression of the standardized testing that caters to the No Child Left Behind initiative. Those organizations provide information and resources for parents on how to exempt their children from standardized tests. But this approach avoids the problem, rather than solving it. Most school students are still taking these tests, unaware of the detriment to their future.
Before college, I hadn’t been encouraged to think creatively and critically since elementary school. High school was a creative dry spell, and the fact that all the answers were very cut-and-dry meant that analysis didn’t even enter the picture. I couldn’t think for myself.
When I got to college and professors would ask me analytical questions, I couldn’t come up with a single answer. When other students answered, I couldn’t imagine having ever drawn a conclusion that well thought-out. Where were the easy answers with no ambiguity or room for interpretation?
It was a beautiful, newly terrifying world, and I was totally unprepared. It took a long time for me to learn that it was acceptable to have my own opinion. So, it’s easy to imagine that being unprepared to be creative in class would leave me unprepared to think creatively about my future.
I can’t remember the last time I actually thought of a “dream job” that didn’t make me nearly die of boredom. We’re programmed to think of the next step in terms of what we’re expected to do, seeing as up until now every next step has been predetermined for us.
How do we get back to being six years old and actually believing we could be astronauts and actors? We watch people doing it in the real world, but see them as the exception, because we’ve been told to keep it realistic. Realism has become synonymous with boring, money-making, sorry excuses for dreams. Graduate school doesn’t have to be the answer, and you don’t have to choose a major just because you think it’ll make you money.
We don’t need to know what we want to do with our lives right now. But it sucks to feel like we’re backtracking because the wonderful imagination-filled world of kindergarten was completely abandoned when we got to high school. I’m not saying we need to break out the finger paints, but there isn’t just one way to learn, and there isn’t just one way to succeed.
I’m still holding on to the pool dream, and maybe even the movie star husband. While I may not be the Broadway star my eight-year-old self fantasized about, I’m determined to unearth the creativity that shaped that dream. We should all strive to be more than the collection of numbers that public schools have used to judge our worth.
Contact CU Independent Breaking News Editor Maggie Wagner at firstname.lastname@example.org.