I was in college and graduate school for nearly ten years, and in that time I must’ve had 1,000 different people tell me, “Wait until you graduate and go out in the real world,” or “Graduating next year, huh? You’ll finally be in the real world.” And every time I heard such stupidity I wanted to slam a pie in the speaker’s face. Even toward the end of my Ph.D. program, when I was working 70 hours a week and earning $20,000 a year, an occasional nitwit would say something like, “Well the party’s almost over; time for the real world.”
The collegiate fairy tale myth supposes that I spoiled myself in early adulthood by avoiding “work” and going to college. Presumptuous garbage. Like my students today, I had in college an enormous and time-sensitive workload, social pressures, empty pockets, and little sense of physical continuity. Any psychiatrist will tell you that moving domiciles is one of the most stressful life events that humans experience, and yet we make college students move around like carnies, in and out of dorm rooms, and perhaps urging them to relocate to off-campus housing as upperclassmen. On September 13, the fraternity house of Pi Kappa Alpha at the University of Maine, where I teach, was condemned and 22 students were tossed out. My, how lucky they are to know nothing of real-world pressure!
Heh. I agree with this guy–but I also really like his (pie) in-your-face attitude. The only correction I would make to his screed is to suggest that students who are making good grades are probably working hard at college. Students who are earning below a 2.8 or 3.0 GPA are probably not working hard enough on the academics, although as Martin points out, many of them are busy with jobs, families, and the usual rough-and-tumble of adult life.
The attempt to construct college as not somehow part of “the real world” has always struck me as a very elitist fantasy, usually promulgated by people who themselves attended Fancypants U., and probably on Pater’s or Mater’s dime, too. Maybe they were sheltered from “the real world” when they were in college, but the reality of the vast majority of American college students is entirely different: they’re not at Fancypants U., they’re at reasonably-priced community colleges or state schools like Baa Ram U., and they’re usually juggling student loans as well as on- or off-campus jobs in order to pay for it partially or entirely themselves. We must ask: what is the effect of these fairy tales about college somehow not of “the real world?” What is the intention of those who peddle these stories? Here’s Martin again:
Young Americans don’t go to college to avoid work. They work hard in college so they have a shot at earning a modestly rewarding living. Unfortunately for these young aspirants, they’re slogging toward a labor market that older generations of Americans have sullied. Rather than insulting college students by suggesting that they don’t know what hard work is, older Americans might instead consider apologizing for the pathetic employment market staring down graduates in this country.
Go read the whole thing–he makes a strong case for the flexibility and relaxed dress codes of the faculty lifestyle, given the harsh realities of the tenure-track job market and the fact that most of who do manage to secure a TT line don’t start that employment (or saving for retirement) until we’re at least 30. (Of course–the not-shaving and the relaxed dress codes are mostly a dude thing–but I’ve been known to teach in jeans every once in a while, or to attend a faculty meeting in my running or yoga gear.)