I drove to a concert on a summery, calm Friday evening, with a vivid sunset shining towards the west. My father and I were heading to Belvidere, Illinois, to see The Dead Daisies at the Apollo Theatre. The route consisted mostly of typical freeway scenery and the charm of a rural highway, along with a straight shot through Clinton, Wisconsin-- a small farming town built on a railroad intersection. My father and I could not help but wonder why the town was in such an indiscreet location.
Many miles south of Clinton, straddling the Wisconsin-Illinois border, a historical marker was standing in the midst of a trimmed grassy field. Having a great interest in local history, I pulled over to read the marker. It detailed the story of Clinton, and the local regions of Walworth and Rock counties. The sign pointed to the Norwegian heritage that south central Wisconsin is rooted in; among the first settlers in the area entirely, these immigrants established family farms, hamlets, small businesses, and schoolhouses.
Just two days later, my father and I visited a restored schoolhouse at the New Berlin Historical Park. Built in 1863, the house was finished in barnhouse red, and was approximately no larger than the average bedroom of a modern American household. Twenty or so desks formed four rows, each increasing in size from front to back. Sunday was hot and humid; the windows were cracked open. The coal-driven heater was turned off; the chalkboard was wiped clear. A tourist guide was present; she saw us and we engaged in rigid, yet calm conversation. She described the discipline that students were dealt with at the time, and the punishments they faced, just in case a delinquent was a little too far out of line. She finished with her belief that some of that discipline needs to be reintroduced into today’s education system.
The historical park’s church.
The historical marker and the school house display and describe just how different a student’s life was 150 years ago. Education was taken seriously, yet it wasn’t a priority, not really. Less time was devoted to schooling, as the majority of children in Southeastern Wisconsin worked the farm in both spring and fall. Students had little say in what they wanted to do. Perhaps, they simply knew of no other way. They had no choice.
A student’s life is very different in 2021. Us students are presented with the greatest amount of information ever recorded, along with extremely easy access. We are presented with more choices than ever-- where to take our lives, what occupation to be in, and how to make it all a reality. Surely no student of today would choose the life of their 1860’s counterpart, where any dream they had in their cots would stay as such. Yet, it has come to the system’s attention that despite their plethora of choices, numerous students are still left unsatisfied.
I will openly admit: I am among those students. Reflecting upon the past student and person I was in high school, I realize that the student I grew into was largely dictated by the same dilemma that many other students face: The paradox of choice, as coined by Barry Schwartz.
Decisions are made all the time, such as the decision to visit Dari Ripple and eat a big cookie.
The kind of learner I have grown into, along with the kind of learner that I was at a very young age, has led to where I am now. Of course, there are extenuating circumstances that I have had no say over, such as where I live, and who my parents are. What my interests are, who my friends are, and where I went to college-- all these decisions come down to that very point of learning.
In high school, I was hellbent on being someone of merit, someone worthwhile. I felt social pressure like no other, especially in my first two years. This iteration of me is someone I do not like, but it is something that must be reflected on. I was not focused on college; I had no sense of the future. I was all too concerned with living in the moment, and my grades were not up to my standards. I was a shell of my true self, someone I have recently found again. In elementary and middle school, I absolutely loved learning. I soaked up information about science, geography and writing like a sponge. My interest in writing was like no others of my age; by the end of 8th grade, most of my first novel was almost finished.
A stark shift occurred my freshmen year, where I felt I needed to change in order to truly be relevant in the modern world. Although not being focused on college, the idea of it was in the back of my head. I took APs and honors classes just because I felt like I had to; I thought college was a necessity for success. I was barely interested in algebra, biology, Human geography. I found myself obsessing over a girl instead-- my priorities changed. After a building depression that peaked in the spring of 2018, I reluctantly completed my novel.
Freshman year was dark, real dark. Yet, it provided a sense of growth, and light at the end of the tunnel. Although my new priorities remained present, my passions remained true. I continued to study local history, architecture and writing, and my novel was released April 30, 2019. It was with this major milestone that I knew I was someone of merit, regardless if anyone else believed that or not. It was my junior year when I returned to my inquisitive, true self, and was now hellbent on learning as much as I could, and creating as many opportunities for myself as possible. I realized that even if I needed to go to college, I now knew that I wanted to.
I successfully and effectively prepared for the academic aspect of college. In total, I took 11 AP courses, and passed 9 tests. Despite extenuating stress and the pandemic starting right as I had figured myself out, the transition to college was seamless and smooth; I have learned to manage my time effectively. This is all in thanks to my last two years of high school, and the reintroduction of my true self. In fact, I tend to be bored sometimes-- I found myself reading about the history of my campus on a Wednesday afternoon.
In other ways, despite my seamless transition to college and my preparedness, the journey forward was not traveled on freshly paved asphalt. At times, I felt academic pressure from the high expectations I developed with the success I sustained my junior year. I had finally balanced social and academic life, and the Covid-19 pandemic essentially tipped the scale out of my own control. During the pandemic, I lost a piece of my true self: I became all too concerned with the future, with the consequence. I was not focused on the present, with little sense of what was in front of me. I was nervous about what college had in store; I did not know where I wanted to go, I was not sure of what to do. I almost lost my significant other and many other relationships due to these personal issues I was going through. I find it hard at times to not be ashamed of who I was, but at least I'm satisfied with who I am now. The relationships I developed during the pandemic helped me be prepared for the other aspects of college, and the demands that come with it. They helped me develop skills and emotional management techniques, reminding me to keep everything in perspective; I am forever grateful for those people.
My junior year incorporated five AP courses; it was, besides the present, when my curiosity and desire to learn was the highest it had ever been. I took this high amount of challenging courses due to my newfound confidence, and my newfound desire for learning. I took these classes for another reason-- I was not sure. I was sure of myself, I had already published a novel. I simply wasn’t sure which opportunity to jump on.
So, like any other scholar, I jumped on all of them. It was also with junior year that more personal growth occurred-- my learning habits would have to improve if I wanted to keep up with a heavily increased workload. Robert Leamnson writes in his article “Learning (Your first Job)” about the learning process, and details the main idea that learning is never given, in which it is inflicted upon yourself. Only information is given, it is up to each of us to interpret it to our own liking, much akin to the socratic method.
Admittedly, my current methods of studying aren’t the greatest. Perhaps this is reminiscent of a junior year that was sometimes all too much to handle. My insatiable desire to learn and my ever growing curiosity proved to be a burden at times. With other responsibilities, I rarely had the time to truly learn in depth about each of my subjects. In consequence, I would end up studying just to survive and pass a test, all of which I did. In my first college semester, I have not had any tests yet, but I fear I will resort to studying only as much as I need to, and nothing more. Thankfully, I believe I have picked classes which will allow me to explore more in depth about each, and resolve this issue of mine.
Despite my studying habits needing improvement, my note taking has recently improved. Well, Leamnson would want me to say my note making. In classes heavy with information, I have revealed that my writing skills pay off when it comes to notes, and I am able to dissect and interpret the most important information: the information I need to be successful.
Among my more successful habits in learning and studying is the verbalization aspect. I absolutely love teaching my friends about subjects and little fun facts that we come across, such as the subcontinental divide, or Niagara Escarpment, both straddling Southeastern Wisconsin. I understand that if I can teach someone about my own learning intuitively and in depth, I will then know that I have truly learned that subject. Although this is true, I must work on applying this subject to classes I am currently in, and not just the natural or political history of my state.
The learner and student I currently am has become pretty complete, but only recently. Many factors build up the true identity of who I have become. I do believe I am a good, if not great, student. I have finally pinned down my primary interests and goals and have successfully made it to college. I take inspiration from my mother and the recent NBA champion, Giannis Antetokoumnpo: Always want more, but never be greedy.
By all means, I do want more. It is easier said than done. College is so, so much better than high school; the resources are plentiful, and the professors are personal. These people care, and I do too. They want me to be successful, and so do I. What can I do to maximize my resources? How can I grow as a learner and accomplish my goals?
Is there a limitation to the student?
I must let go of any ego I have left. I cannot be ashamed or afraid to ask for help if needed; I cannot shy away from my desires, even if the voices around me or inside my head would prefer if I stopped. I have plenty of resources on campus that I fully intend to use if I feel necessary. My professors have genuine care and interest in my writing, which has grown to be my primary objective and potential major. The opportunities I have are greater than ever, and with my understanding that my resources are there to help, will allow myself to grow into an even more proficient learner.
Yet, despite the resources and confidence I have, a longstanding issue remains. Although it might be fading, and I might be more sure than ever, one can never be too sure in our world of many choices. Returning to the points and words of Barry Schwartz, we agree that the students of Clinton, Wisconsin, or the New Berlin Schoolhouse of the 1800s would love to have an alternative to the contemporary family lifestyle of that time. But, it is known that today’s students like myself are not entirely satisfied.
Despite all the growth I have endured, I am still not entirely sure what I want to do or be. Despite my dream of being a writer greater than any other, I understand that this dream might just remain that way, and I am working on finding an alternative.
I have developed an interest in so many things: Geology, architecture, landscaping, road design, natural and local history, urban planning, community outreach, just to name a few. Am I absolutely positive that writing is my best fit? What if something is better for me?
In order to truly become the best learner and student I can be, I must be truly confident in what my life is going to be. I wish I had more of a concrete direction based on my interests in grade school, and not a mentality to stock up on the hardest classes. Looking back, I felt it was the right decision at the time, but two years later, I would have approached it differently. Two years ago, I was confident that I could discover who I am. One year ago, I was not so confident that I could. Today, I am confident in who I am. Writing might bring out the best in me, but until this great decision is finalized, I will remain a great student, but not the best one.
The student I am is largely the student I want to be, but not entirely. I am still haunted by the choice: In many cases, more really is less. Too much of a good thing causes us to stop appreciating the good thing, manipulate it, or even worse, exploit it. Once the choice, my major, is made, the weight in my mind will lessen severely. High school was up, down, and all around, but above all, it was an experience, and a lesson that has molded me into a more complete person. I am prepared for college academics and the workload, and my study habits are going to only get better with time and further experience. Again, the resources are plentiful, the professors are personal. With the guiding hand of my college, I feel confident I will discover another aspect of who I am, and where I want to go. I have never felt more connected to my school, and although I am not entirely sure what I am going to do, I am certain I will be one day.
My curiosity and desire to learn never steered me wrong, just like on that drive to Belvidere. -kz