Making College a Mission-Possible
During college, we listened to the comedy-duo Cheech and Chong's hilarious skit about "Dave" and "Man" doing a drug-deal late at night:.
Dave knocks on Man's door, and says, "Hey, Man, I got the stuff, let me in."
From inside, Man calls out, "Who is it?"
Dave repeats, "Man, it's Dave. Let me in. I got the stuff."
After a long pause, Man replies, "Dave's not here."
Dave yells to him, "Man, I'm Dave! Let me in!"
"It's Dave, Man! Let me in!"
"Dave's not here."
Shit, we laughed about it, although we already knew guys who were no longer "here." I thought of them collectively as "Dave." I imagined knocking on Dave's door, asking for him. Dave's flat reply from within comes back, "Dave's no longer here." Dave has vacated his body and turned into an ego-poor zombie, fit for the shredder. Drug-use has addled his brain, and brooding over the pointlessness of his life has led him into the dark.
This actually happened to a good friend, a real "Dave", who chose to drop out of college after an aimless year with heavy drug-use. When Dave didn't come back to college the next year, a friend and I contacted him at his parents' home in another state. We asked Dave how he was doing. His flat, disembodied voice showed not a shred of recognition and convinced us that we would never see him again. He was no longer here. Later, we heard that Dave had taken his own life.
I can't count the number of times that I heard male friends in college say "I don't give a fuck about nuthin!" Some of them smoked pot everyday and drank themselves into oblivion on the weekend. They tackled mountains of school-work, day after day, and could make no sense of the purpose of it all. They had started college only because their parents expected them to—and because the institutional life was the only life they knew. They had to park their asses somewhere, and they were too old to send back to high school, where they felt more at home. College made them feel like cattle being led to the slaughterhouse.
No one should think of college as more institutional schooling. The buildings look institutional, and the dining hall and food look institutional; but in fact, students must transition. They must learn personal intentionality, develop personal goals, and start imagining a future, where they have to make all the decisions. It's a tall order, if you are not prepared for it.
We were studious, but unfit for real work. We complained about feeling like foie gras, the geese in France who spend their lives imprisoned in cages, with a feeding funnel shoved down their throats. Passivity, incomprehension, and helplessness can do a trip on boys who don't know what they want to do with their lives. Now, at age seventy, I compare college to a psychiatric hospital. The students must realize that their immediate goal is to survive it.
Parents should become inventive, take a page from Mission Impossible, and make a recording for their sons to hear: "Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to endure four more years of institutional schooling and work your ass off till you're ready to bust through walls to get out. After four years, they will let you out. You will go out through the front gate, armed with goals and personal intentionality, because they won't let you back in. "
"If you choose not to accept your mission, your life will self-destruct in five years. Good luck!"
You can be smart as hell and score an "A" in all your courses, but academic discipline needs a pre-defined goal. If you put the discipline first and let the goal tag along undefined behind it, you might as well put the cart in front of the horse. Boys should know beforehand that the lack of a goal puts them at risk, and that the pointlessness of their lives will dog them until they do find a goal for their efforts—or else discover a goal in another setting.