To return, or not to return. For most, this August and September, there is no real choice; only between the lesser of two evils. School calls.
Young children will have to abide by the decisions their parents make; many teens will be asked their opinions, and face various sorts of pressure: from family, the school, friends. Most will end up doing what the crowd does. And when the crowd turns, they’ll turn, as surely as with a flock of birds in flight.
But for those who graduated among the class of 2020, seniors only scant months ago, whose school year was cut short right about when the fun begins–you do have a choice. College looms, in one form or another, but there exists a third alternative. Some people would love for you not to realize that, but it’s there.
You can take a gap year.
And if there was ever a group of 18-year olds who had a good excuse to do it, in these days when college has become somehow mandatory for those who can “afford it” (are willing to go deep into debt,) it’s you, the class of 2020. “I’m afraid you’ll never get back into school.” “Your financial aid will be affected.” “You’ll fall behind.” Those voices won’t even articulate some of their deeper fears–these statements are only on the surface.
So, do you risk your health, and the health of everyone you come in contact with, over the next several months, OR do you sit at home on the computer, making some attempt to learn what previous graduates went to an actual building on an actual campus with actual professors, among actual friends, to learn?
It’s one of the hardest decisions you will ever face. But as someone who taught at the university level for over two decades, and has seen a lot of freshmen come and go (and sat across a table one-on-one with countless undergrads along the way,) I have a suggestion to offer.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO CHOOSE EITHER.
Consider this: many of you really didn’t want to rush into more schooling, anyway. Be honest. Twelve straight years was enough, for now.
And while we’re being honest: you don’t learn much on a computer. Some will resist learning in whatever form it takes. Even if they had a professor all to themselves and tailored private lessons, they’d fail. But most of you are willing, I know that. I’ve been there with you. But this “online instruction”–c’mon, all BS aside, it’s nothing but a way for schools to make more money off you. In the past decade, I’ve never heard one good thing uttered about any online class by someone who actually took one, beyond “I didn’t have to get in a car and drive there.” In other words, no one does it willingly. They have their reasons–but maximum effectiveness is not among them.
Why not? Well, older folks like myself might be intrigued by the idea, for its novelty. But you, who never grew up without a computer, are too familiar with digital devices not to know they have an appeal which eventually wears off. I’ve written extensively elsewhere about the differences between Digital and Analog experiences.
Here’s an interesting example. See that advertisement above? That’s Pete Townshend of The Who. He and his bandmates, in the 1960s, began a trend of smashing their instruments at the end of a performance. To a lot of outside people, this didn’t make any sense. Hard to blame them: hearing about it, or just seeing a recording, or the poster, isn’t enough to explain. “Can’t Explain,” chanted the refrain of one song.
But the sense of it is not logical; it’s experiential; it’s visceral. You have to be there. WHEN YOU ARE THERE, Pete Townshend smashing his guitar to useless junk makes sense. I’m not just talking about an emotional connection to the band, the crowd. I’m not just talking about being caught in a moment, although all those are true.
I’m talking about an ANALOG EXPERIENCE. Are You Experienced? asked Jimi Hendrix.
Most of you have been to see a live band. The performance may have its downside. That is, it may be dark, crowded, smelly, sticky, distorted, unrehearsed, and the tickets you got may not have gotten you close enough. But on the upside: unlike a recording, you’re present for a unique happening, untransmitted and with no intermediary, unlike any other that ever was, or ever will be. Oh, it may be similar in its contours, but that band played that night FOR YOU. Everything they could do, was for you, and those with you. And the smashing of the instruments was a direct message–these will never play another note for anyone else BUT YOU. It’s a compliment, a gift really–mixed, as with all things rock n’ roll, with drugs, alcohol, sweat, deafness, and the rest–but still, a high compliment. We all lived together, brief though it be, in the HERE and NOW.
You may never have thought of it that way before, but all those teachers–the vast majority of them for whom teaching is a calling, not a gig–they come in, month-in and month-out, and offer that same gift. An experience. Maybe not quite so theatrical. . .but take it from me, something gets sacrificed. . .and a splinter of its essence goes out to each and every student. Some accept it; others don’t.
I don’t recommend you try to immerse yourself in that experience, in your crucial first year of college, through a digitized internet connection. It won’t all get through. Something will be missing.
Of course, I’m neither recommending you risk COVID. I’m saying, don’t add to the loss of half your high school senior year by layering an inauthentic college freshman year on top of it.
Consider the third alternative: Go to work. Hike the Appalachian trail. Shovel snow. Write poems. Keep running. Take some hard knocks. Play so hard and long that your fingers blister, and bleed. Whatever–just keep doing analog. You won’t ever be 18 again, that I can guarantee. Sometimes a guitar is just a guitar; but sometimes, it’s more. In the greater sense, we all have only seconds to live. The time is too precious to spend it behind a shield, be it cotton, plastic, or electronic.
As another rock band put it:
The universal dream
For those who wish to seem;
Those who wish to be
Must put aside the alienation
Get on with the fascination
The real relation
The underlying theme