In Education it’s All about the “I”

I sling my JanSport bag over my shoulders and make my way to a classroom. I take out my books and turn on John Mayer. Studying gets underway. It’s 11pm and I aim to get things done by 3 am. It’s a sickening cycle. I’ve been at it for 3 days in a row and a big part of me feels like I can go on, whilst at some juncture of the night a feeling of utter helplessness wells up in my chest begging me to stop.

A friend messages me to ask about my whereabouts. He’s at Starbucks and he wants to study together. It’s no more than a 5-minute walk from the classroom. We would study together occasionally, and he would sometimes bring me to the Medicine Faculty library where we would just sit for hours chugging down books like an alcoholic to his bottle. It was all in the name of friendship it seemed. These friendships keep our time here sane, they say.

With all my books sprawled out, however, I was reluctant to move. I didn’t want the five minute walk to distract me, to pull me out of this rare momentum I had generated. I asked him if he would want to come over here instead. It’s pretty conducive, I added.

In the end none of us bothered moving. We were both settled down, studying, in our own separate bubbles of concentration. And in that moment it hit both of us that that was all that mattered.

The week passed with me trying to organise study sessions with friends but the more I tried to see the togetherness of this endeavour the more it escaped me. There was nothing really holding us united as students. Time and again our schedules would conflict, time and again we’d find some reason to tide it out on our own. There was no reason to be in the same room as a bunch of people hunched over, looking at their notes or laptops intermittently switching between Facebook and their essays, with different songs playing from different earpieces.

It almost seemed like we weren’t actually motivated by friendships but by how much we could accomplish in this set amount of time. If coming together to study was more convenient we’d do that, if studying apart was better off we’d as soon hop on. We made friendship seem like the whole point when it probably wasn’t.

The fact was this: that even when we were in the same physical space we were fighting our own separate battles, with our own unique strategies. You could say that peer teaching helps, that discussions are fruitful, that being there for emotional support is crucial. All that is fantastic, but at no point in our education has anyone stepped in to tell us that forming these bonds was ever necessary for our success. Our education has always been centred around the benefit of the individual. From bell curves to cut off points, from application essays to interviews the emphasis becomes that of me rather than us. Because a successful “we” makes for a mediocre “I”. If everyone was special then no one would be. And so subconsciously a part of us will always strive to stand out, will always try to establish ourselves above the rest, or at least make our mark on the wall as high as possible, to the best of our abilities.

All that isn’t tragic. To want to succeed is okay, I feel like many of us do at some point in our lives want to succeed. What is tragic however, is the possibility that we may never find fulfilment in the process. We want to succeed, and we want to be prosperous, but the fact is we have been squeezed through a system that heralds success as an individualistic endeavour, one that takes this innate desire for excellence and turns it into selfishness. We follow this blindly although we all know it’s an endless chase. We follow this path knowing that it wouldn’t, for one minute, make us better people but follow it we must, because that’s all we’ve ever known. That, to me, is tragic.

But not all is lost. Against this system we still try. We still gather at times to read together, to ask questions, discuss concepts. Sometimes we tutor each other and for little pockets of time lapse into conversations about the past. And for a few fleeting moments it all makes sense. But I can’t help but feel that this is all borrowed time.

Because our time together doesn’t seem to be the point at all when it probably should have been. The entire point seems to be our individual assignments and our individual transcripts, our individual study spaces and our individual drives to succeed. And then at 3 am in the morning with a laptop screen blazing and eyes tired you’ll feel it: the helplessness all over again. That you’re trapped. That even though you look brilliant on paper, there’s no one to really talk to, no one who will care to understand that feeling of human vulnerability.

The room may be full of people, but make no mistake: you are very much on your own.

25 thoughts on “In Education it’s All about the “I”

    • Hello College Mate!

      I was making the point that the learning is the problem, not that the learning is what we should spend too much resource focusing on. Human relations is what has been lacking in the process of education, and from that we are not contented. A balance must be met, which is my point.

      Cheers,
      Justin

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Reblogged this on just thoughts and commented:
    “To want to succeed is okay, I feel like many of us do at some point in our lives want to succeed. What is tragic however, is the possibility that we may never find fulfilment in the process. We want to succeed, and we want to be prosperous, but the fact is we have been squeezed through a system that heralds success as an individualistic endeavour, one that takes this innate desire for excellence and turns it into selfishness. We follow this blindly although we all know it’s an endless chase. We follow this path knowing that it wouldn’t, for one minute, make us better people but follow it we must, because that’s all we’ve ever known.”

    Like

  2. Masterfully written, really captures the solitude that one encounters in college. While it’s true that quite a fair portion of future vocation boils down to individual appraisals and performance reviews, take heart that your subsequent jobs will have allow you engage in more collaborative work. Be it through internships, volunteerism or work projects, I’m sure you’ll have the chance to experience a genuine team dynamic and interpersonal relation, rather than merely being physically there without being present.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Jaren! You share the same name as my brother! Anyway thanks for the injection of optimism. Im entirely unsure if working life will be better or worst than studying but im really hoping that you’re right and that things will get better. We need to really starr being accountable for each other and take care of the people beside us. I mean, they always say working life is worst than studying and sometimes i dont want to find out. In any case, whether you’re working or studying now I wish you all the best and hope it was a good read!

      Like

  3. Good read and it got me thinking.

    Perhaps it is because of the fact that one is selfish towards the others thus they reciprocated in the same manner.

    So how do we get rid of this vicious cycle? Perhaps we should take the first step to be helpful to our peers.

    It is in fact proven to be beneficial if you teach your peers instead of being selfish.

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    • Yup im sure its a vicious cycle. We all end up assuming the worst of each other. From all my friends who have shared my post i realise now that that isnt true. We are not content. A small part of us does crave for human interaction and a lot of us wish that the education system isnt crafted as it is. But it is and so what we can do now is take the initiative to reach out. Be the change you want to see in others is a good way to see this situation. And from there who knows, you may be happier or you may not but at least you tried and when it comes to being a better person there’s always space for trying.

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  4. “What is tragic however, is the possibility that we may never find fulfilment in the process. We want to succeed, and we want to be prosperous, but the fact is we have been squeezed through a system that heralds success as an individualistic endeavour, one that takes this innate desire for excellence and turns it into selfishness.”

    I feel really close to this quote and I think it shows how we sometimes feel, in the process of trying to find our meaning in this place, we start to feel more alone and disconnected because we see only ‘me’ and not ‘us’ in a bigger picture.

    I used to feel trapped like how you described too, but didn’t see this problem clearly until I made good friends with a few exchangers from Europe in Utown and I felt really connected almost for the first time. The next thing happened? I took a LOA and went to live in Denmark. I think it really changed my life and how I see my life – no more of the sort in this article 🙂

    Thanks for the piece,
    Michelle

    Like

    • Hi Michelle! I really admire your courage in stepping out into the great unknown. I think that in Singapore anything to do with a gap year or LOA is so heavily stigmatised and kept hush because it shows itself as a sign of weakness when in really shouldnt be. Our lives should be spent in constant progress, but progress comes in many forms. We will not do ourselves any good by taking progress to mean only academic/career advancement. There’s a lot more to life than that and i think your move to Denmark is living proof. The rest of us (me included) who havent found that courage to step outside will have to continue struggling and working. Meanwhile i really hope you gain a heap of new perspective where you are and i wish you all the best 🙂

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  5. The whole notion of individual thinking and representation really shows in Uni, and actually since JC when there’s a bell curve. I read somewhere that because of this bell curve, it becomes such a competitive system and that’s what makes everyone think about themselves only. If the system is already pre-programmed to have a specific number of people getting a good grade, there will be bound to be people who are as good but didn’t get that same grade because of the curve.

    There’s nothing much we can do except try our best to help one another and yet still have that thought in the back of your mind that ‘you have to do better than him’ because if you don’t, your spot would be taken up. I think that’s just something that has to be looked into and ultimately changed.

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    • Hi Brandon!

      Nice to see you in NUS i think we’ll be seeing each other a lot since our trainings are like at the same time.

      Anyway yeah when I wrote this there was no grand solution in mind. It would be a little too idealistic to propose one. I think the only short term solution i can think of is just to fight the system and ask each other now and then how the other is doing instead of always receding into our own spaces. It may not be the most efficient way of going about things but whoever said you had to be efficient to be happy? I think structurally it’ll take a while before we can get out of this mindset, but I hope we do in the future even though our generation is already pretty much done with.

      Like

  6. I empathise with you. Having just graduated from university last year, I completely understand this scene you described.

    Education is, however, much more than what we perceive it to be.

    “If everyone was special then no one would be”
    I completely disagree with this with a good reason: Everyone is unique and special in their own ways and talent. Everyone is and should start acknowledging that they are, each and everyone, special, and unique.

    As a twenty-two year-old like yourself (twenty-three this December), I’ve decided it’s time to make a change and revolutionize education. Drop me an email if you’re interested – I would love to gain insights from someone like yourself.

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    • Hello Cherie!

      I see where youre coming from; as an absolute statement it sure is wrong to say that if everyone is special then no one would be. What i was trying to say was that its this mindset that is wrong that we have to he extra special to stand out and so we try to climb over heads. Maybe i didnt express it so well but was really trying to highlight the flaw in the thinking rather than make any assertion. In any case thanks for reading, i really appreciate the comment cos its easy to agree with things but it really takes concerted thought to disagree haha (and ive been on both ends before regarding this issue)

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  7. “Because a successful “we” makes for a mediocre “I”. If everyone was special then no one would be.”

    This is really puzzling because why do we need to be special though?

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  8. In the end, what is it that you seek?

    Fame and social defined success? or personal contentment and meaningful possession(Memories)?

    Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realise they were the big things.

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  9. Hi, a fellow freshie here! This is pretty late, but I saw this post through Facebook and found it to be really insightful. This paper chase and sense of loneliness does feel endemic, but I suppose it’s also a matter of perspective and choice. We can choose to be the better person, to be kind and support our peers through the same journey we take.

    Cheers and all the best for finals!

    Like

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