Throughout my years as a an Education Reporter, I’ve crossed paths with many different people. There have been outstanding students whom received acceptances into prestigious universities, excellent educators and parents, and even various college admissions officers.
And now, after many years have passed, if I was asked to pick someone who is remarkably memorable, I would have to choose one particular student. At the time, this male student was enrolled in a prestigious university and not recognizing him would be a mistake. Back when we first crossed paths, in an effort to publish the first education article of the year, I asked him the following question: “What words of advice would you want to give those students in high school now?” And his response was beyond genuine and heartfelt.
Now, because this particular student is faithfully and sincerely journeying down his individual path, I feel obliged to keep him unnamed. However, I do want to remember his words and present them again through this student reporter publication.
Over the years, as the advisor for the Student Reporter Program, I have read so many student reporter articles, taught these students what an effective interview is, and strived for students to write and present what is considered great journalism. And so, it is my belief that the sentiments I present today will be essentially beneficial for not only current high school students but all students in their growth, maturity, and improvement.
The world of technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and for the most part, we as young people and students have been quite adept at keeping up. Most of us regularly take advatage of the conveniences and pleasures of technology – whether the web, email, instant messaging, text messaging, cell phones, MP3s, iPods, DVDs or wireless, our generation tends to know what it’s doing, and know much better than our parents’ generation.
But despite this technological expertise and capability with communications devices, there are aspects of simply communicating that we fail in – a fact that does not serve us well, especially as communication becomes more, not less, important to our education.
Heading into a new year and a new semester, here are ten approaches to communicating better that should help us to improve ourselves as students. More importantly, they should help us improve ourselves as intelligent, accessible, well-rounded people.
1. Change how we spend time we spend on the internet. We all spend a sizeable portion of the day online, and we have to admit, the bulk of it is unproductive. The internet is an incredibly rich resource, but most of us don’t use it effectively, and waste lots of time looking at websites that don’t really enrich us in any way. Instead of clicking aimlessly and chatting online with people with whom we should be spending more valuable face-to-face time, we can efficiently make use of the internet’s greatest function – the ability to procure information.
2. Read the newspaper every day. If we are ignorant of the world around us, we are ignorant of ourselves. Reading a major daily – such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or The Los Angeles Times – gives us awareness of international, national, and local events; provides us with analysis of how and why these events are occurring; and helps us to populate our lives with a broader spectrum of characters and experiences than the small sampling we otherwise interact with on a daily basis. Some of the best features to read are investigative journalism, news analysis, and editorials, because they offer critical perspectives on current events, and we should ever strive to think and write more critically.
3. Read news-oriented magazines. The daily paper is not enough. Such non-academic, lay publications as The New Yorker, The Economist, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic and even The New York Times Magazine not only inform us of the world, but give us further political, economic, social and cultural insight into its workings. These magazines can be lauded simply on the merit of their writing, which is often superb – and there is no more rewarding a path to becoming a better writer than reading good writing. Alongside their formal qualities, the magazines engage us in the public intellectual life of this country, albeit only as readers. While there are many more interactive forums for public thought on university campuses and in social circles, we can glean much by sharing what other educated Americans are reading.
4. Write letters by hand. Email is great, and most of us use it regularly and functionally. Despite this, there is an art and a substance to handwritten correspondence that charges the exchange – and hence, the relationship – with essential responsibilities. We should all pause at times to send letters written longhand, and so communicate in a more thoughtful way.
5. Translate as many moments of inspiration as possible into writing. Even in this age of increasing communication, expression is prime, and we often don’t express ourselves enough when communicating. Maturity will come to our writing as we practice expressing ourselves more, and therefore, when some observation, or complaint, or passionate moment of breathtaking creativity strikes, we should scribble away. In our journals, weblogs, personal emails, group emails, handwritten letters, and notebooks, there should be nothing but insistence when ideas emerge, however meaningless they might seem at the time.
6. Become involved in extracurricular activities. As everyone knows, standardized test scores and grades have to be balanced with dedicated extracurricular involvement. This is not only because college admissions officers like students with diverse interests and talents, but because there is so much of value in playing a sport, joining a club, or serving the community. Team effort and leadership experience – whether in student government or varsity soccer, at the local teen center or soup kitchen – give us a chance to interact and communicate in a group that has a goal, which is vital to becoming effective members of society.
7. Chat with teachers. Teachers shouldn’t just be seen as authority figures, but as intellectual partners. A good teacher can be a much more helpful mentor than disciplinarian; given that, we should look to our school instructors not as the source of homework assignments, but reassuring guidance and amiable discourse.
8. Talk with parents about the world. A critical step in growing from a child into an adult seems to be that transition when parents become friends. It isn’t some moment when we move out of the house, or become financial independent, but instead when we come to realize that there is a relationship we can share with our parents beyond the rigid conventions of rule and regulation. Through communication, we should make them our partners in thought, taking the time to ask them about the world, and this is very important – taking the time to challenge them intellectually. Alongside traditional obedience is this form of respect, in which we ask them what they thought and cared about at our age, what they think about our society and its issues today, what their concerns and ambitions are for their own lives. By respecting them in this manner, we grow into friendship; we learn not to just follow, but understand the reasons – often all too human – behind their worldview and its dictates.
9. Travel. There are few more valuable experiences for a young person than engaging the world by wandering its places and meeting its people. Instead of wasting money around home, we should save everything we have and get out. Whether it’s a domestic journey – a road trip with friends to a different city, or a camping trip in a national park – or an international expedition – backpacking through Europe, or going to a developing nation as a humanitarian aid volunteer, or studying abroad in a foreign language program – we should take every chance available to travel. Only by communicating with the world at large can we truly become students of its affairs, and in turn, human beings.
10. Stay open-minded about preferences. We must constantly listen, and look, and search for further possibilities in our lives. Part of the value of today’s world of limitless communication is the chance it affords us to seek opportunity beyond the obvious bounds of our immediate, limited environment. Keeping that in consideration, we should maintain flexibility and a broad outlook on what might be best for us. The right subject, program, major, college, graduate school, or career track might be one which we don’t even have information about as of now.
Through these ten recommendations, we should all be able to experience more fulfilling lives in the new year. They are not only about using communication to help us become better students, but better thinkers. After becoming thinkers, all else – our understanding of the world, our studies – will follow in due course. Through the next semester, we shouldn’t just be studying for the sake of studying, but to become more aware of our interests, and thus become more personally satisfied.
JSR Program Advisor