About last sem’s academic stuff.

This past semester (Fall 2017), I enjoyed school for the first time in like six years. It’s quite surprising, and/but it doesn’t change the fact that I would drop out if given enough freedom (and given about 10 million dollars in addition so I know it’s real).

First of all, I had all professors of color, which in itself was phenomenal. But that’s only a side note.

I like knowledge. But I like knowledge to be useful for me. My goals, you see, have not changed. I still want to be one of Ghana’s littest novelists, and I still want to spend my life writing African-centered stories. If you will remember from my blog posts about a year ago, my aspirations are the reason I decided to be an Africana Studies major. The current way I assess whether the knowledge I am acquiring is useful for me is asking whether or how well I can use it to write the kind of stories I want to write. Since I am particularly in love with African histories, the whole Africana Studies distin makes sense. Thus, it pleased me how much it seemed all the classes I took in Fall 2017 were specifically designed to work towards my interests. Let me break it down.

1 of 4: I took an Introduction to Africana Studies course. My favorite read of the class was the book Reversing Sail by Michael A. Gomez. I thought it was a fantastic overview of African-related history, and I believe it gave me adequate tools to start finding out what I want to find out more about. Of course, most of the things I found most interesting were things the class didn’t discuss at length, because, of course, the class wasn’t full of story-loving West African kids. (But how for do?) I genuinely feel like I learnt in that class. Even though it demanded a lot from me, and the readings were long. (BTW, I actually did the readings, OMG?!) Also, my professor was incredibly compassionate and invested not only in the class’ subject matter, but also in her students’ wellbeing. Phenomenal.

2 of 4: I took a religious studies class that explored how African-Americans relate to “the problem of evil,” and their interactions with “the problem of evil” in Western thought. Here, too, I learnt a lot and read a lot of things I didn’t even know I wanted to know. I will admit that most of the time, in the class, I couldn’t figure out how the discussion related to the designated topic. Sometimes I didn’t have a bloody clue what the hell we were even talking about, but whatever, man. Perhaps my favorite read for that class – or shall I say, favorite discovery? – was the slave narrative of the Nigerian Olaudah Equiano, but I’m sure the opportunity will present itself in time for some many other, random things I learnt to prove useful within my life.

One interesting thing to observe about this class, just by the way, is just how rocked some people were by some of the topics we discussed, like theodicy, the question of whether God is a white racist, and a bunch of other fun stuff. Particularly a Christian friend. I feel like I kept expecting to be rocked too, but legit every single time there was even a hint of theological obstacle, whatever I already understood about Jesus and Christianity made everything make satisfactory sense to me. I did not struggle with my faith this semester. Jesus is still bae. I suspect a lot of the sense I found and continue to find in Jesus as well as the theology I hold has been contributed to by all the Christian literature I’ve read this year. Especially notable is CS Lewis’ Signature Classics collection, which I purchased mid-year. I’ve almost finished working my way through all the books, but I’m not that smart and Lewis is a genius, so best believe I’ll keep returning to them as and when I see fit. I also, like, read the Bible, go to a Church that makes far more sense than any church I’ve ever been to, and engage with much art by Christians who have sense. But that’s just by the way.

3 of 4: I took a film class about exile. This, technically, is unrelated to my major – but only in terms of formal requirements. You see, the films treated in that class came in three strands: the African continent, Latin America, and the Asian diaspora. We spent, I believe, the longest amount of time on the African continent. So, I was really enjoying myself, dealing with stuff from Ousmane Sembène, Patrice Lumumba, Djibril Diop Mambéty and the like. I think my favorite read of that class was the short story “Tribal Scars” by Sembène. It was so lit, and the kind of story I’d genuinely love to tell, even remix. Ah, and because it was a film class, I’ll throw in my favorite movie of the class: “Hyènes” by Djibril Diop Mambéty. It’s like a Senegalese remix of an European writer’s work: the play “The Visit” by Friedrich Durrenmatt. But it’s also so much more than just a Senegalese remix. I think Mambéty’s work is generally brilliant.

All in all, I was excited to engage with African art and stories and history and even politics in this class. And found myself being extremely grateful that it was so un-Americentric. Loved it. I didn’t love the fact that it was at 8 am, and far from me, and an uphill bike ride. ☹

4 of 4: An intermediate French class. Let me be real: I only took this class because of language requirements. Believe me, I had been planning to stay about three planets away from this torturous language after high school ended – but then I decided I have way too much I plan to do between now and graduation, to be spending my time learning a new language. Besides, nearly all the Mandarin Chinese I spent four years acquiring has left my head, and the horrible experience of boarding school is to thank for that. So, French, the language I had spent averagely fifteen years studying and still flopping at, had to do.

My professor, first of all, was Haitian, so praise be to God for that. And in all honesty, I feel I learned more proper French in this one semester than all the fifteen years prior combined. That’s tragic, when you think about it, and when you think about what it implies about the way French is taught in Ghana, but that’s a topic for a different day.

My favorite part of that class was how not France-centric it was. I believe the designated textbook was written by a francophone Black man. So, for instance, a lot of the assigned texts for comprehension or composition assignments were about, like, Caribbean, African or Indochina territories that had serious French influence on them. I don’t think I read any text by a white French person for that class. There was much Blackness involved, though. So, although it was unintentional, the African-centered content of that class fit perfectly into my agenda.

My favorite read for this class was the small novel, “Un Papillon dans la Cité” by Guadeloupean-French author, Gisèle Pineau. =)

***

So yeah, those were my four classes of the semester. But a post about school isn’t complete unless I’m ranting about something, and I have so much to rant about all the time, when it comes to academia!

For one thing, I will never, ever be comfortable with how an African would have to leave her continent to go somewhere and learn about her continent (because the one college she could even conceive being able to study at without going insane from the non-functionality of the institution is rather unequipped for people whose main academic focus lies out of STEM or business. I ain’t name-dropped no one). If colonialism were a person, I’d have been regularly delivering some sexy bitch-slaps since like, 2012, which is when I think I started waking up. What nonsense! Anyway, this isn’t even my main problem.

My real issue isn’t that I had to leave my continent to go to an unnecessarily expensive school to acquire the knowledge I desire; it is that I have to go to (an expensive) school in the first place. I genuinely felt that a lot of the things I learn in school, especially about history and stories, should have been common knowledge in the places I came from, or in countries closer to me. I’ve gotten so frustrated with this issue that it forced the poem “College Libraries.” out of me. I believe it’s a conscious plot of the Enemy to lock some things particularly important for the African’s knowledge up within academia so that we have to give them money to get it back. I want to respect Africans in humanities that fight to get into academia so they can change the nature of the voices within it, but then again, I don’t believe they should have to fight for a damn thing, and I don’t believe the voices are so easily changed. And just look at how much it costs to study here! I. Cannot. Deal.

So no, I refuse to be grateful to the Enemy for all the knowledge I’m acquiring, because they stole it, and I’m just about bleeding through my nose to get it back. Foolishness.

Anyway, always at the back of my mind is the fear that I’m taking “irrelevant” courses or doing an “irrelevant” major, even though I myself know for sure that this is the best academic trajectory that can properly feed into the stories I want to write. Despite this, there’s still fear, though. And the fear is only exacerbated by all the people who keep asking me if I’m going to use my Africana Studies degree to become a lecturer. I’m so tired of that question. Plus, it makes me feel like an idiot who is making awful decisions with her life. But how for do. If I am forced to do this thing I don’t want (school), let me at least use it as a tool to acquire something I can use (African-centered knowledge). It’s not like I didn’t already know poverty is part of my destiny.

-Akotowaa

College Libraries.

I often think of knowledge as Rapunzel,

of college as the impenetrable tower,

and of myself as the lovestruck outsider,

begging her to let down her spines.

Each time I meet the Board of Wizards

that keep her in captivity,

They tell me that she must be fiercely guarded

Then, that they believe strongly in everyone’s eligibility to access her.

So I ask them why they keep the manual on how to storm the castle inside the castle,

Why there is a menacing, money-drinking dragon at every structure that looks like an entrance,

and the Board of Wizards,

which claims to be her foster parents

has never managed to give me

a satisfactory answer.

-Akotowaa

LOL so this liberal arts distin actually works eh?

If you know Akotowaa, like know me proper, it is no surprise that my anti-formal-education stance has been a huge part of my life and informed my worldview for literally years. I have been tired of formal education and its restrictions for a long time. I have watched several videos, including Prince EA’s spoken word poem, Suli Breaks’ spoken word problem, and Ken Robinson’s TED talk. I have written on it several times, including in my novella, Puppets. I spent a lot of my first semester of high school frickin’ interviewing teachers like I was doing actual research on what made formal education (not) work. A lot of this has largely been fueled by my own wars between self (artist) and society (that wants me to be “practical”).  And so I would say that I came into my liberal arts college with an already fairly liberal-arts-educationist mindset. But not everyone is like me. As obvious a fact of life as this is, it can sometimes be quite shocking to have it flung in your face and brought into active consciousness.

For my academic year, there had been 3 Ghanaians from Ghana that got into my college, of which I had been one. The other two were guys; we were all from different schools and didn’t know each other prior to acceptance. One of these guys took the initiative to ardently use all his resources, especially Facebook, to firstly discover who we were, and then organize a single meet-up during the summer so that college in the US would not be the first time we were meeting each other.

I often go off the first vibes I get from people, so I know who not to waste my time with if we can’t click. The boy who orchestrated the meet-up was fine; I knew we could be cool with each other kraa. And I was right because we pretty much have been from then on. The other one, though, I had a problem with. I had barely known him for more than 20 minutes before he began to tire me.

It is difficult for me to pinpoint tangible reasons to account for what I’m usually satisfied enough to pass off as “vibes”, but I suppose for the sake of lexical communication, I have to try. His education had influenced his mental frame to make it the exact opposite of my own conscious mental frame at the time. Note that education is both formal (he had gone to government schools, and I to private/international) and informal (he had been raised in some sort of conventional Ghanaian societal mindset, whereas I had been raised in an environment that at least had enough cracks in conventional culture for me to break out and stand on the outside).

He was the kind of person who would ascribe to the satirical (because it’s too painfully real to be considered purely humorous) joke that an [African] individual has 4 career options: Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer or Disgrace to Family. He was the type of person who would react with (un)conscious disdain or perhaps mere bafflement that I was considering majoring in something like English. (And true as heck, he did; I could see it in his expression when I mentioned it) He was the type of person to hold Ivy Leagues in the highest esteem like getting into one was a sure sign of undebatable brilliance. (I, on the other hand, am so ridiculously tired of even the idea of Ivy Leagues.) As a matter of fact, he had even been accepted into one, and I don’t think he mentioned that fewer than twice. He was the kind of person I simply would not have patience for even if I tried, and so the best way to maintain a healthy relationship between us was to limit our direct communication as much as possible – which I think I managed to do all of last semester, so yay. [I would describe other factors that led me to strengthen my resolve to limit interaction, but that would be both mean and revealing of much more than is necessary for the sake of this post.]

A few weeks ago, however, at the beginning of this second semester of our first year in college, I had a conversation with him which I kind of never expected to have with him – or anyone, for that matter, since I have so little faith in the effectiveness of school. The conversation struck up when I joined him for breakfast in a nearly-empty dining hall. (Why did I sit with someone I had been actively avoiding? I was in a good enough mood to decide that I could control my ugly superciliousness, I guess), and the conversation continued until we broke off near the dorms to our respective destinations.

He was telling me how, this semester, he was taking an Introduction to Psychology class, and was further interested in taking a sociology class, because it seemed like the material within these courses was relevant and fascinating. For such a STEM-oriented mind, these were huge things to admit, both to oneself and to another person. I didn’t realize in the moment how impacted he must have been during our past 5 months in America to say these things. To me, it was just like Well yeah, the study of minds and cultures is relevant to whomever it’s relevant to – why are you so excited? In fact, I’d already taken an Intro Psych class the previous semester, so already, I couldn’t see what the big deal was.

But this boy, who had lived for 21 years on this earth already, had come into college believing (and he confessed this himself, to me, that morning) that people who studied stuff like the humanities were just wasting their time and education; STEM was where the only important stuff was at. [I just want to clarify something, because I think some people believe that I’m anti-STEM. I am not anti-STEM; that would be idiotic. It is impossible for me not to see the necessity of people in society pursuing science, technology etc. in a 21st-century world. What I am truly against is people who have no affinity for STEM, including myself, being forced or persuaded to pursue academic/professional careers in those areas.] And so this boy was only now reaching an educationally liberal point of view that I’d been at for ages already. Why?

Because he took a class here whose content he probably might not have had access to, had he gone to a college that wasn’t our liberal arts college. What is special about the one we attend is a mandatory seminar class for all first-year students. There are about 30 options to choose from before you actually arrive at the school, and each class has a unique and academically unconventional subject focus. You stick with one for a whole semester and then you’re done. The class this boy chose was entitled “Education and its Discontents”, which sounds vaguely fascinating. I’d actually considered ranking that higher on my preference scale before I decided that I was far too tired of the topic to bother engaging with it especially coming freshly out of high school and needing a break from arguing the same points I’ve been arguing against my opposition for years – and there was sure to be some members of my opposition in the class. Case in point: my STEMmish countryman over here.

Now I obviously can’t go into great detail about what exactly the class covered, seeing how I didn’t take it myself, but from what I gathered, some TED talks were watched, perhaps even that famous Ken Robinson one. The matters of why people became so dissatisfied with the educational system were discussed. Formal education’s credibility and effectiveness were questioned. The history and evolution of the concept of school were explored, including the scholastic visions of ancient philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. And, I am assuming, the value of a holistic education, such as that which liberal arts promises, was emphasized.

But I’m not here to talk about the content of a class I didn’t take. I am just here to express how truly, genuinely astounded I am that a college class could have had such real, fantastic influence on the kind of person it needed to have influence on. Do you know, I never expected school to be this effective at all. There’s a fascinating irony in school having been critically studied in school too, LOL. And even though the class probably didn’t indoctrinate/anti-indoctrinate the entirety of the content I’d have liked it to, it’s still impossible to ignore the fact that it has tangible potential to push people in (what I believe is) the right direction. So…there’s hope?

This doesn’t make me stop hating school though. I’m too stubborn for that. 🙂

-Akotowaa

 

Akotowaa’s Guide to Dropping Out

Unfortunately, I’ve never dropped out before – so my advice on this topic is obviously very credible and 100% legitimate. Listening to “experts on these issues” is overrated anyway.

Yes, there are some who believe although I have never dropped out of school yet, there’s still a chance of it happening. I like these people. Then there are those who will read this and immediately comment or text me to strongly advise me against this option. I could do without these people right now. Just read the freaking blog post, would you? :/

Lots of people think I’m just an impractical anti-educationist. I don’t think that description quite hits the mark, though. Perhaps I am simply not a fan of formal, institutionalized education – or anti-academic. To imply that I hate knowledge, however, is to make an unfair and untrue judgment on what exactly it is that I stand for.

I stand for making the absolute best of oneself in the way that is most fruitful to them. For all, education is the way. For some, formal education is not the way. For others, institutionalized education is where they thrive. Who am I to tell you to abruptly leave a system that works so well for you?
 
So, from a person completely inexperienced with anything but the thought of dropping out, here is Akotowaa’s guide to dropping out.
 
1) When not to drop out.
Do not drop out of you’re lazy. I promise you if you aren’t capable of grinding in school, you’re probably not capable of grinding outside of it. I don’t know, but grinding out of it is probably way harder. Imagine how many times you would have to prove yourself without credentials. Leaving school is not the easy way out, and I will describe why soon.
 
2) Situations where people think you shouldn’t drop out – but they don’t actually matter.
If you’re doing well in school, it still is not a good enough indicator that you should be in school. Sometimes it’s a matter of doing what you have to do – when what you have to do can’t be done in classrooms or whatever. Academic aptitude – especially when you are an autodidact – might actually give you an advantage outside of school. Sometimes it is also a matter of implementing a groundbreaking idea before someone else does. That is in fact the reason why some of the greatest minds have dropped out – because they didn’t have time to waste in school before they patented their designs; before they brought their technology to the world first. It’s not always because they were flopping in school. Brilliance is often a factor for success.
 
When you have no idea what you’re going to do without school, when you have no definite plans and cannot adequately answer people when they ask, with scandalized expressions, “What are you going to do then?!” – that is also not enough reason to stay in school when you know you do not belong there. Here’s why: school can kill your brain and spirit when you can’t handle it. Any suppressive and prolonged situation can do that to you, be it your school, your marriage, your work, your country, whatever. Many times, what people really need is time and space to think. I highly doubt a person who is feeling frustrated and suffocated in a system would be entirely capable of making rational and detailed plans about the next stages of their lives. Sometimes, one may need to drop out in order to be clearheaded enough to know what they want to do after they drop out – even if that decision is to go back to school. It is normal to not know what you need, even as you know exactly what you do not need. It’s not an astronomically absurd idea. Sometimes you may just be doing school wrong; you have to drop out and start again, to figure out how to do school right.

“Other people don’t have the opportunities that you have…” This is one of those nonsense phrases that come in many different forms. Here’s the irony about life, okay? A lot of people need money so that they can afford to go to school. A lot of people need money so that they can be financially stable enough to drop out of school. A lot of people need money so that they can get out of the debt they got in for going to school in the first place. How can you win? Somebody not having something is not automatically equivalent to you needing it. Imagine someone somewhere does not have a Mercedes Benz because they can’t afford it. Does that mean by all means you should buy a Porsche? If in another part of the country, people are starving, it doesn’t mean you must by all means turn yourself into a glutton and continue to eat long after your body has stopped needing the food. They are completely disconnected things. Yes, formal education would drastically improve the life of someone who doesn’t have it. But if you have it and can tell that it isn’t working for you, it is irrational to hold yourself back for the guilt of someone else.
 
3) So when should you drop out?
When you can clearly see that school, or the school you are in, or the program you’re enrolled in, which you can’t easily change – is taking you absolutely nowhere, or not at all where you want to go, or not where you want to go fast enough, you may want to consider dropping out.

When you have a groundbreaking idea you need to implement immediately, before someone else does, patent it, own it, change the world with it first, you might want to consider dropping out.

If you are living in misery, and can barely find any motivation to wake up in the morning and go through the routine of your timetable – if these thoughts occasionally make you wonder what the point of life is, and consider ending it – I think you might need to drop the hell out of school.

If you know how your brain acquires knowledge, and the system you are in isn’t giving it to you in your ideal way – perhaps you would want to consider finding a more fruitful method. Here, let me give an example of my life. I can learn relatively fast if I am being taught one-on-one; when full attention is on me, I give my full attention, easily. Something changes when suddenly it’s not just me being taught – but a whole bunch of people at once – at the same pace, or in the same style, or in the same kind of language. I know that I’m more of an individual learner than one who learns with others, and this has cost me a lot, to keep going to classes for two hours and understanding nothing, only to have someone privately explain the same thing to me, which I understand in twenty minutes. I don’t like wasting my own time simply because it is “required” of me.
 
4) Now that you’ve dropped out, or have decided to drop out, how do you use your time?
This is the part where I explain why dropping out isn’t the easy way out.
When you’ve dropped out, you are going to have to work towards whatever it is you want to achieve – and that involves time. If, to complete your goals, you will need to acquire skills you otherwise could not have learnt in school, you’re either going to have to pay for tuition, or be an autodidact. Just like the way it is in school, you’re not going to just sit there and be achieving stellar things.

People think of dropping out in a way that implies more freedom than I think it actually entails. I think if you’re not spending money on school fees, there is definitely a lot of other stuff you would have to be spending money on instead. And this is something that you and your parents or whoever is in charge of your finances in tuition are going to have to make yourselves understand. And you are going to have to be prepared to spend at least as much time and money as you would have in the classroom, or on assignments, trying to achieve whatever you dropped out to achieve.

For example, if you dropped out of school to focus on becoming a musician, you’re about to invest in voice training lessons, teaching yourself scales and musical instrument, forming connections, paying for studio time, exercising, flexing your songwriting skills, learning improvisation, playing by ear – and you will be buying a lot of things; equipment, instruments, online tutorials. You are not free. Not if you’re serious about whatever you’re trying to do.
 
There should be a whole book on this stuff. There probably already is. But yeah. Though this is not exhaustive, feel free to re-examine your life now. ☺

-Akotowaa