Monday, March 26, 2012

Letters from an American Student

spotting by mezoneI dashed off this semi-satirical rant (for lack of a better word) for a college assignment, "Imagine that you have been asked to compose a series of Letters from an American Student. Write a letter to your foreign correspondent in which you address the question, 'What is an American?'." It's inspired by J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur's Letters from an American Farmer: Describing Certain Provincial Situations, Manners, and Customs, Not Generally Known; and Conveying Some Idea of the Late and Present Interior Circumstances of the British Colonies of North America, 1782. My work is considerably shorter that his.

Letters from an American Student
What is an American?

The position of a student in America, which I happily occupy, is one of the most enviable in the world, obtained by millions and sought by millions more. It is the status of one who is not required to toil for one’s bread, or even to pay one’s own way (as government assistance and copious loans are generally available). It is an honored status which might derive its dignity from the tradition of scholarly achievement which has furthered the ambitions of generations of Americans (and it is imbued with a certain nebulous respect by the general populous),  but for many students of higher learning, academics have very little to do with college life—socialization and an expansion of knowledge concerning local “hangouts” is more the order of the day. Of course there may be one truly studious student in a hundred, one who is dedicated to furthering his or her intelligence and using a diploma for purposes of gainful employment in the future, but for each one of these there are many more of us who are perfectly happy to study Piaget’s theories of child development, Freud’s outdated notions of psychotherapy, and to debate the relative virtues of radical communism and socialism rather than attempt to actually learn anything of practical use.

I paint a bleak portrait of the young people who comprise the American education system, but all is not gloom. More and more students are finding ways to circumvent the time-worn roads to achievement and are discovering a much faster, more flexible, though woolier way to gain an education and launch into a life of usefulness without painful blots of youthful indiscretions and a Mount Everest of debt upon their backs. These “non-traditional” students are part of an ever-growing movement within the next generation, one that is impatient with traditions which burden and slow progress, and are the lifeblood of the new society which is blossoming in the 21st century. 

UC Berkeley Walkout by ben.chaneyWhile the American student may have been born in Japan, or Nevada, or Rome, or Punxsutawney, and may be attending a state university of no very great repute or an Ivy League school, he or she is bound to all fellow Americans by a common feeling of freedom, something that the modern college student values above all other things—even Top Ramen and Facebook. Freedom, primarily of speech and action, is highly prized by the young generation that is quite used to doing whatever it pleases (and shouting about it from the rooftops, as it were, via modern technology such as iPhones, YouTube, Google, etc.). Freedom of self-expression, self-governance, and self-reliance have been common to Americans since the institution of our nation, but it seems that these traits are especially illuminated and animated in the span of years during which an American becomes an American Student. 

It is a common belief that a college student—this product of the intelligentsia, this hemp-loving, texting, meditating, picketing, clueless, drunken, indebted, philosophical creature—is a representative of the heartbeat of the nation, and must be heard at all costs. Therefore we are able to vote, enlist, and—more importantly—have our activities covered by the press as much as possible. In short: we are a lively rabble, bound by commonalities of feeing and expression which far transcend and even exclude that of academics, and we are the future parents, office workers, and senators of our nation. However, the truly alarming fact is that the parents, teachers, employers, and governors of this motley crowd are the college students of yesterday. This may give some hope for the future sanity of our country.       

spotting, a photo by mezone on Flickr.
UC Berkeley Walkout, a photo by ben.chaney on Flickr.


  1. L.O.L. this is great... :)
    Thanks for sharing!


    1. Thanks for commenting, Tessa! I'm glad you liked it :)


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