” … to put simply, I am lost” : the reality of “unreal” world


” Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later.” – Steve Jobs, 6/12/2005

This week, I completed my first sessions working with a total of 51 undergraduate students; out of 275 or so total students  enrolled in the course .  In short, the course is to address students’ anxieties about the “real world” so they can strategize their college years.  The INTER-LS 210 2nd Yr Career Course “Taking Initiative” largely builds on the idea of liberal arts education that encourages students to think creatively about themselves, and eventually about the environment they belong to.

Rightly so, reading my students initial reflective writing, which is one of the assignments in this course, I have learned overwhelming  number of students experiencing fear about the “real world.”  One student wrote, “I have never understood how the real world works.”  This leads me to think, are we (students) now in an unreal world?   This post is my elaboration on the question.

“This leads me to think, are we (students) now in an unreal world?”

First, by this time, most students in this class probably has spent an average of 14 straight years in an  educational system.  With the well structured educational system, participants do not really have the voice in helping design the system.  The system is ready and is run every academic year with some tweaks here and there.  This kind of system mostly treats students like a saving account in a financial system.  Knowledge is to be deposited to students’ mind and they are to be trained to make sense that knowledge from a teacher’s perspective; Paulo Freire (1968) called this system as a banking education.  A teacher is perceived as someone who knows everything, while students know nothing.  That someone will always be there to tell us what to do, and what is wrong or right about what we do.

In reality, there are two ways to think about this figure of teacher. There is none, simply.  Not a single one outside of the classroom who would tell us what to do, other than our parents.  Unless I am wrong, we do not normally view our parents as a teacher, despite of the amount of educational messages we get from them.

Next, assuming that there is a teacher figure, there are more than one who would tell us what to do.  Living in a social life, after 14 straight years following a teacher perspective in a classroom, now we have to deal with multiple different “teachers” telling us what to do.  We are just not used to this kind of model of processing  information.  The school does not teach us to process information from multiple teachers.  One subject one teacher, just follow the instruction from one teacher, mission accomplished for that particular subject.

The next dimension of this that I would like to discuss is that the current educational system encourages students to perform as an individual rather than as a group.  With all the grading system, student performance is accessed by what they do as an individual.  Even if they work as a group, they are still assessed individually.  Consequently, at school, students have very limited environment that forces (note I do not use the word encourage) them to work with others.  In reality, you will almost always need someone’s help, and most likely will require intensive communication with a variety of people.  That is, communication that lead to building relationship with people with backgrounds different from them.  When there is a social problem, finding a solution is not as simple as doing a research and find a solution like we do at school.  The social relations of producing this solution, the formal term is called social relations of knowledge production, will likely involve many people who share interests in finding that solution.  Unless you are used to work with others, you won’t likely find a solution to a problem.

A lot of mentions about the fear for networking (formal) that is essentially about hanging out and talking with people (informal).  Students fear about what if they made a wrong pick with their major (formal), when actually everyday they could simply change their dinner menu if they do not like the one they had in the previous day (informal).  The same about their career path after graduation, how they figure it out (formal), when they actually could join one student group in one semester, and moved to another in the next semester once they know they like it better (informal).  The “right-mind thinking” in Katharine Brooks’ “You Majored in What?” discusses a lot about this.

My point is, the well structured and formal education has made us think a bit too narrow about some of our own life skills.  We thought we do not have the skills.  As I have gone a bit longer than my students, I believe they already do and even have practiced them.  They just experienced them in a more informal environment, and have difficulties in connecting between the real world and the school world (the unreal world).

The first quote in the beginning of this post is taken from a Commencement address by Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple, when he delivered at the University of Stanford.  The video version is also available on YouTube.  I mentioned about his speech in class because it is very relevant.  The wanderings diagram, the second week assignment, helps students think about their own “dots.”  Steve’s first story is about connecting his dots.  The other two stories are equally important too.