We claim to encourage the kids and teenagers in our families to follow their dreams. We say that we want them to run after their creative calling and that we wish for them be the people they are meant to be. However, in reality we are pre-programmed to do just the opposite. Does this sound harsh to you? If yes, I ask you to survey facts.
In Jordan, the educational system puts 18 year-olds through a standardized secondary certificate examination. This same educational system claims to give students the choice between choosing to follow the scientific stream or literary stream alongside other streams (The dreaded Tawjihi). Our schools tell students to make the selection at the age of 16 (at the end of the 10th grade). However, many of these same schools offer no formal career guidance. They fail to tell the students what each possibility offers in terms of career options. To add to the lack of career advice offered in our public schools and to a lesser degree our private schools, the 16-year olds’ family members act as career guides in good will of course.
Their advice, however, does not involve really listening to the young person or even acknowledging what he or she wants to achieve in life. Rather it involves throwing a set of generalizations about the status each potential career provides. These standard generalizations are also not based on facts, but rather on the messages that we had simply recycled from generations past. At this point , the young adult hears statements like “get a high average to become a doctor like your cousin,” or “get a degree in Engineering to become rich,” or “get a degree in accounting and follow that up with the CPA and you will be making more than engineers and doctors,” and the list goes on.
With such feedback many students are made to believe that the scientific stream is better than any other stream. So, many of them end up picking that course of study regardless of their interests in mathematics or science.
Another popular myth we are told revolves around the words “Go for the scientific stream, get a high average and then study what you want in university.”
Now, at this point if the young 16-year old expresses an interest in music, art, writing, design, film-making , drawing , painting, or any other less “traditional” field many parents would write-that off as a phase. If a 16 year-old boy states that he is interested in any of these fields , he is told to think about his future and how he will fail at getting a job, starting a family, or buying a house if he opted to be a designer, artist, musician, painter, or writer. He might fight the family, but at the end they will probably say “Get a good grade in Tawjihi first then do what you want.” If a 16-year old girl expresses such an interest she will probably be told that her certificate is her only ammunition against a potentially abusive husband or sudden poverty, death, or any other catastrophe, so the same advice will be given to her too.
So for the many students who give in, their sole purpose in life will become to pass the Tawjihi exam. Most of these students will study, take private classes, burry themselves in books, and really put their dreams on hold between the years of 16 and 18 to pass this exam. In the meantime, they will get more conditioning from the well-meaning family .
At this point, the new words of wisdom will sound like this,” study engineering and then do what you want as a hobby” or “get good grades, get a degree then follow your dreams”. They will also be told that the most important thing for them at this point is to pass and get good grades because if they don’t , they won’t be able to follow your dreams.
So, after two years of studying the students who pass are then defined by the grades they get. Those who get a grade in the 90s are celebrated more than those who got a grade in the 70s.
Following the release of the exam results and after weeks of celebrations and parties, the reality of needing to select a school hits them. If the freshmen-to-be follows the parents’ wishes and studies something like engineering, dentistry, pharmacy, or medicine they are the children from heaven. For some parents, a student getting a good grade must study one of those fields, because studying anything less is a waste of their efforts and intelligence.
Now, at this point, the dreamy student who was told to pass in order to be an artist, painter, or writer, reminds his/her family of the dream. Some families give in at this point and let their kids go and be who they want to be while others will probably respond by saying “Go to university, study something, then go do whatever you want.”
So, the dreamer may cave-in to the parents desires thus putting off the dream for another four to six years.
Once he/she graduates from college the celebrations erupt in the family and the gifts come showering on the graduate for the great accomplishment. However, with the gifts and celebrations come more pieces of advice. The dreamer who is also now the fresh graduate is advised to look for a job in a multinational company or to study abroad, or to go for the public sector for the security it promises. Now, if he/she dares to mention the dream once again then the response would be a reminder of the responsibilities society expects to be fulfilled. The parents would probably say “You need to work, pay your dues, buy a house, get married and start a family. You can do the things you want to do on the side or as a hobby.” Of course, with these words, the dream is put off indefinitely.
This bright-eyed fresh graduate gets a job and starts working from 9 to 5 everyday. He/she is then caught up with the office politics, trying to secure the next raise, the next promotion, the perfect partner, the house, and paying off the bills he/she has piled up.
The years go by and the dream fade behind the deadlines, the office fight, and the office social gatherings. Without noticing it, the once aspiring artist, writer, composer, or designer starts running after the bigger offer, the promotion, the raise, and the appraisal. The aspirations to create are only things he/she would pursue when the family is asleep. But then again , society congratulates the now corporate success for fulfilling the roles expected and with nowhere to turn, the dreamer decides to believe that dreams are for kids. In fact, the dream is crushed somewhere to be revisited in a parallel universe.
The truth is that society is driving us towards being average, playing it safe, and fulfilling the goals we are expected to fulfill within our age group. Anyone trying to do something different is shunned for being crazy . But, if that same person fights the masses and succeeds he/she is then congratulated for being brave. Maybe society has our best interest at heart, but where would we be without our dreams?
Personally, I believe that one should put social expectations aside and ask themselves, why be average when you can be the exception Students of today should be able to choose the lives they want to live tomorrow. Parents should not use their kids to re-live their lost ambitions, and creativity should never be reduced to a hobby.
On the bright side, the new generation of young adults is starting to get it and this is great. Hope is seen in them. They are more head strong then the generations past.
Let’s not be dream crushers to their aspirations.