NICOLE JASANNA BELL
Why am I in College
Why am I in college? I should know the answer to that, shouldn’t I? Throughout my academic career, schooling came easily to me. I always had As and Bs, I played a musical instrument, and I was athletic. All my teachers told me I could be something great. “Nicole you could be a doctor, or a scientist, or maybe a therapist!” The only issue was, I hated school. I felt as if the work was not applicable. Biology didn’t have any relevance in my life, what was I going to use world history for? The only class I ever felt like taught me anything about real life, was my high school guitar class. The public-school system puts a lot of stress on the importance of core classes such as math, science, history, and English. Your performance in class is what determines your worth, even if the topic is of no interest to you. This is like Paulo Freire’s banking method where he states the teacher “chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply.” I had an environmental science teacher who was the queen of memorization. Mrs. Gretchen Dewall was known for her vocabulary lists and bad attitude; the constant garble of nonsense and the squeaking of white board markers writing down definitions. Due to the style of teaching I had to endure, if you asked me anything about the climate, geology, or fossil fuels, I promise I will be able to tell you absolutely, positively, nothing on the matter. This class was one of many which based my grade on how many definitions I could recite or formulas I could regurgitate. Education in this way was something that turned me away from the idea of college. I didn’t want to spend another four years memorizing for a test and then forgetting everything. I loved to learn about the human brain, different cultures, other languages, etc. However, I did not want to go to another school where I would be forced to sit through classes in which I did not care about the material.
Due to this continuous cycle of teaching, I was able to separate my “school brain” from my “home brain.” Nothing I learned at school would ever follow me back into the real world. Mr. Pete Mercier changed that for me. In his guitar class, I learned how to play an instrument, but I also learned about how to live in the real world as a functioning adult. Every day we discussed something that was going on in the news. He would write a word on the board, like “war,” and then leave the room open for discussion. Everyone came from different economic, racial, or cultural backgrounds so our opinions differed greatly. Being in that class showed me how ignorant I was about the real world. Thankfully, I learned how to stay informed on politics or even popular culture; we also learned how to determine what was “fake news,” which during this semester has greatly benefitted me. Merc would also discuss with us ways we could prepare for the future, whether that be looking for a job or going to college. He always offered to write recommendations, help us with resumes, or even just talk stress. Until I enrolled in that class, there was no way I was going to go to college. I had the manageable dream of auditioning for a singing show and becoming famous; there was no way of changing my mind. Why did I need math if I wanted to sing? I was getting good grades, but as Freire explains in his article, I also felt as if educators were not interested in helping me think for myself and pursue goals. I distinctly remember one day during my junior year; I came into the classroom angry at my family for getting upset with me because I still hadn’t decided which colleges I wanted to apply to. I went up to Mr. Mercier and told him I was done with school; I had believed I would’ve been better off without going to college. With obvious concern written across his face, he sat me down and discussed with me the other options I could pursue if I didn’t want to go to school. He was not talking to me in a demeaning way but realistically. After thinking it through, I realized that most of the realistic careers I wanted to pursue were not something I could get to without a degree. There is importance in the presence of involved teachers. Yes, working to get good grades is the student’s responsibility. However, teachers are sometimes the driving factor that push kids to further their lives. Every day, Mr. Mercier taught me more about myself than anyone else. He taught me to question myself all the time, which may sound horrible, but it encourages me to grow constantly. Why do I want to be an occupational therapist? What does it take for me to get there? What sacrifices am I willing to make to reach my goal? I think back to Roger Garrison’s article in which he talked about the importance of questioning why one is getting an education. Without that guitar class where I learned more practical skills than any core class, I don’t think I would be at JMU. I didn’t believe college was going to be somewhere where I discovered myself. It was because of Merc’s life stories and advice that I realized college was going to be different than high school. He made me realize that yes, I will have to study. However, college is the place where I study a career field that I want and find ways to pursue music as well. It is important to see college as a place to explore, not just to meet standardized requirements. As Garrison says, “A college’s real business is with the creative development of your best personal powers.” I started this off by asking why I am in college. The answer is, I don’t know. However, I can confidently state that I am actively working to discover myself and come out of the next four years with not only a degree, but with an understanding of how I can contribute to society. Mr. Mercier encouraged me to come to college to discover myself and to pursue what I want in life. I am at JMU to not only prove to myself that I can do this, but to grow upon the life lessons I learned from my biggest supporter, Mr. Pete Mercier.
Word Count: 1095 Works Cited: Freire, Paulo PEDAGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED, New York: Continuum Books, 1993 Garrison, Roger WHY AM I IN COLLEGE?, The Adventure of Learning in College, New York: Harper, 1959.