Site Meter

Friday, March 25, 2011


Bucolic Academia 

So now my son is receiving mail everyday from a variety of colleges and universities. He has apparently gotten on college mailing lists from taking his PSATs as practice in his sophomore year of high school.  Some are simple letters with a personalized code created just for him. This, the letters claim, will provide him with a customized cyber-experience of the school.
                                                                                                     Taking one of these cyber tours reminds me of a trip my husband and I made to the ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico.  Deep in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula are the ruins of an ancient Maya civilization that disappeared without a trace. According to historians, the city was gradually abandoned some time around 1200. 

Look at the steps on the left, amazing eh? 
It is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site, which entered the popular imagination in 1843 with the book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John Lloyd Stephens. About 20 years later Edward H. Thompson, US consul to the Yucatan, spent over 30 years studying the ruins. The most famous is the Temple of Kukulkan (the Maya name for Quetzalcoatl), a step pyramid built for astronomical purposes. During the vernal and autumnal equinox at about 3pm, sunlight bathes the western front of the pyramid's main stairway. This causes seven isosceles triangles to form imitating the body of a serpent 37 yards long that creep downwards until it joins the huge serpent's head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway. 

At this 6-mile square site you’ll also find The Great Ball Court, about 500 feet by 220 feet where violent and bloody games were held. At the base of the interior walls are slanted benches with sculpted panels of teams of ball players. In one panel, one of the players has been decapitated and from the wound emits seven streams of blood; six become wriggling serpents and the center becomes a winding plant. 

The secrets of the ruins, we were told, would be explained to us that evening in a fantastic light show created for English speakers. And so, in that evening’s haze in a jungle abuzz with all kinds of critters and fragrant with the scent of tropical flora, we climbed up on the ancient stone steps of the court where losing teams of ancient times were slaughtered for defeat.  
The tinny sound of Mexican music, from speakers on the field, gets us started. Flashing colored light beams imbedded throughout the stadium illuminated the ruins like a 70’s disco in Queens. I anxiously awaited the man in the white sharkskin suit with the Mexican accent to DJ the event and give us dance lessons.  Instead we are treated to a pre-recorded tape of a heavily accented reader providing the highlights of Chichen Itza with the flash of colored lights synced to his reading. 

Unfortunately it was obvious that the reader did not speak English, although that was what he was trying to do. The only word, besides a stray preposition here and there, that we could understand was Chichen Itza (cheat-zen-neat-za). I deduced that he was reading from a transliteration; a recreation of text phonetically created for the reader which does not include the proper inflection or syllabic emphasis or emPHAsis.  My husband and I were laughing at this point because it was completely ridiculous, but for the $40 admission fee. 
                                                                                                                                                                   So now my son and I go on these college cyber-tours in which there are personalized notes and audio/video segments where my son’s name is mechanically inserted much like our tour of Chichen Itza. 

Other colleges send colorful brochures depicting ivy covered buildings and autumn leaves inducing in his mother, a jolt of Love Story, where do I begin --- with the attendant sound track. But to my dear young 16-year-old son who has yet to understand that institutions of higher learning use the same marketing techniques as diet colas, the ones with the colorful brochures look like terrific schools to him. We recently received one of these from someplace like “Schluboygen Eastern College” It had a great looking brochure.

“Oh, mom. That looks like a great school.”

“Yes indeed it does look like great but it’s 3 hours from the closest airport, there are no Chinese restaurants or kosher delis in the neighborhood and no one outside of a 50 miles radius of the campus has ever heard of the place. But you’re right sweetheart, it does LOOK like a great school.”

So how does one select the right college? I remember the process from my own childhood as daunting. I had a well leafed through edition of Barron’s Directory of American Colleges that I spent hours combing through. There was one rule my mother made and I had to obey, the school could be no further than an eight-hour drive from home. Naturally I chose the school that was 8 hours away from home. As far as I was concerned, the less scrutiny my mother had over my collegiate activities, the better and the closer I came to breaking her one rule, well that was a good thing too.

I know people who chose a college because they were chasing a love, guys who selected a school because of their basketball or football teams and others who chose a college because one of their parents had attended, even if they had completely different interests. In retrospect, my 8-hour reason certainly seems just as immature and stupid as any of these so I understand my son’s selection by brochure.

Faced with the prospect of paying over $50,000 a year for my child’s undergraduate education is reason enough for us to make a thoughtful and informed decision.  Money may not or never grow on trees but it will take killing a forest’s worth of paper for his college education. I hope to use those resources wisely.

No comments:

Post a Comment