I live in the United States. It’s a great nation (sometimes). We have a lot of freedoms (sometimes). For the most part we are a nation filled with wealth and prosperity. Until you walk a mile in the shoes of a student. Let me paint you a little picture.
It’s six o’clock in the morning. The sun is just barely peeking over the mountainous terrain around me. I’m awake. I’m walking out to my car so I can drive to work. I get in my older car, a 2005 Ford Taurus, and head down a one-way street. On my right, I drive past a pivotal part of my community. Gonzaga University. Higher Education. I’m almost drooling as I see the early morning sun starting to kiss the edges of campus. I drive up a little further and I go towards that lovely sign that says Dutch Bros. I see it and smile because it’s not the first time that day that I’ve been there. This is one of two trips already. All nighters sure are the best. I smile as I get my coffee and head back towards the road so I can continue my commute to work. But a part of me pauses, my smile falters. Should I have spent this money on coffee? Or should I have put it in my college fund. I think as I drive about the multiple mornings I’ve purchased coffee. I think about the times that coffee is the only reason I could make it through the day. Sure it isn’t healthy, but it was necessary to have to get through my SAT’s, state testing, double performances, tennis tournaments, and finals. The constant stress and the need for heightened productivity is getting us stuck in a caffeine induced haze. As I think through all of those mornings, I think about driving to school with mom and enjoying my morning coffee, getting coffee with my friends, meeting with people over coffee for work. The positive moments with that cup of coffee is what makes me want to enjoy it everyday.
That college fund won’t miss those few dollars that I spend on remembering things that make me happy. So I get my coffee because I deserve to have that bit of happiness to mask all of the dread of the day ahead. My schedule is ridiculous because of everything I have to get done. I am up at 5:30am nearly everyday. I get to my first client at 7am and finish by 9am. Then I rush to the other side of town so I can get to class. I’m in class from 9:30 to 11:30. Then it’s back to work. I then work from about 12pm to 5 or 6pm. I do this every day. Monday through Friday. Then I work all day Saturday. Sometimes my work calls and asks me to take shifts on Sunday. Because of the bills I have to pay, I don’t want to refuse the hours. But my mental health also has to be taken into consideration. I have this internal struggle. Do I go to work so I can pay my bills or do I give myself a day to recharge and complete my classwork? I don’t want my grades to struggle but I also don’t want to have to call my parents asking for money either. I take the shift knowing that I now have to work twice as hard during the day before my shift. That struggle is a problem for me every single day. Because of the constant stress of wondering whether or not I’m working enough, my mental health starts to slide. Then when that happens, I notice that my classwork suffers. The moments of happiness start to disintegrate into oblivion.
We live in a country that values education but doesn’t value mental health. The mental health of our students, our future leaders, is sometimes in a questionable state of flux because of the cost of receiving the education they need, the stress of getting the grades they need, and trying to balance life on top of it. People in my generation have lost the ability to grow and focus on personal development because we expect them to go to school full time, work full time, and get amazing grades. The students that participate in sports and extra curricular activities are the lucky ones. The scholarships that they worked hard to get are allowing them a little flexibility, but they also are having to work to be able to pay for other things in life. We don’t see students struggling, social media is a showcase not reality. What is being posted is often a staged version of a moment of their reality. Walk through a common study area in a university though and you will find students stressing over exams, writing and rewriting essays, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. On the weekends, you see people posting about the parties they are going to. One would hope that they aren’t drinking too much. Unfortunately on a national level, about 80% of our students are drinking. And 70% of them are reporting that they drink around 4 drinks per instance of drinking. Which isn’t too bad, but how often are they drinking? After a few conversations with some of my friends in college, this number is varied but constantly over 3 days a week. Alcohol is a depressant. Is this really what we want students doing? Is this is a way to cope with the stress that’s being unloaded on them? If so, how can we fix this?
Even with the insane amounts of stress and unhealthy coping mechanisms, each university and college in this area is a force to be reckoned with. We support them. We go out and watch their sporting events and theatre productions, but we aren’t supporting them mentally or emotionally. Our country still hasn’t made it a priority to make higher education affordable enough that stress can be eliminated. Our students are leaving with educations that they can’t always use because of the current state of affairs. When you cut funding for the arts, you take away jobs for the creative types that would flourish there. When you cut education budgets, you eliminate many teaching applicants because there isn’t enough money to hire more teachers. They also aren’t being paid enough to be able to pay off their inevitable student loans. When we make working a priority and cut the creativity, we are losing people. We are losing students who can’t focus on academics, that need the creative outlets.
So, I guess my main problems with our education will always be this; we don’t value creativity, we breed stress, and we hyper focus on money making it impossible for our incoming generations to get a higher education. When we start focusing on children being children, money being put into the education system, and mental health, I will be there with excitement and readiness to continue with education. But for now, I think I’m going to go back to just working full time and trying to support myself.