Zinsser’s “College Pressures”

Zinsser’s piece, “College Pressures”, depicts the plight of the college student in today’s economically driven society. There are several key social issues Zinsser notes. One is the is the struggle to be better than our classmates. This is seen as Zinsser describes that college students are put in high pressured environments, surrounded by peers who are all highly motivated in attaining excellent grades. The need to outperform our peers stems from the drive and pressure that is thrust upon us by society, parental pressure, and peer pressure. Zinsser demonstrates this in an example: “A professor will assign a five-page paper. Several students will start writing ten page papers to impress him. Then more students will write ten page papers, and a few will raise the ante to fifteen. Pity the poor student who is still just doing the assignment.” This quote perfectly exemplifies how motivating factors between peers can drive up the amount of work that must be produced in order to remain “average”. This can also be related to life as a Stony Brook student, where each minute you spend on campus you are surrounded by high-achieving supernovas who all envision themselves as doctors, and will gladly dig through dirt (literally) for bugs, just for an additional 5 points on their Biology lab grade. The need to surpass others sparks conformity. This idea is the premise of the 1920’s, which was a period in America marked by the conformist attitude to fit in due to the rising pressures brought on by WWI, The Red Scare, and other extreme political/religious ideologies that threatened a homogenized society (which can be demonstrated in this article) This “epidemic” of conformity on college campuses raises the question: what sort of impact will this have on society? It seems that college is merely a microcosm of the “real world”; there is a hierarchy of high achieving students, all aiming to pursue the 3 fundamental “pre-rich” careers. What would happen if everyone were to become a doctor, lawyer, or business(wo)man? In the linked article, the results of conformity had disastrous results: we forced Japanese Americans into internment camps under suspicion of espionage. As a society, would we completely shun those who are not part of these 3 fields of study? The answer is unclear. As mentioned in Zinsser’s article, we are already beginning to shun humanities, as demonstrated by the father who discourages his daughter from pursuing art, as it is “dumb”. It begins with the parents, who force children in particular fields of study, because they believe it is the only way to make money. From the parents, it trickles down to our education system, where humanities and arts are slashed violently with budget cuts. The results are more gruesome than any scene in a horror movie; we are depriving our children, our future, from the fundamental skills they need to be able to be well-rounded individuals. I believe the current education system needs a full rework, because where has ignorance gotten us in the past?

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