A Tale of Two Seatings

I grew up in a college town and I currently live in a neighborhood bordering another university. This neighborhood is an older one (many houses from the early part of the last century) and is quite beautiful. Thus the demographic is pockmarked, houses alternating between college students, young families, and old couples. Walking through the neighborhood is something of an exploration of various subcultures.

One of the defining traits of male-college housing (I have never seen it conclusively with women) is the presence of a couch on the front porch. It is almost ubiquitous. These are older couches, uglier couches, often in poor condition, and completely out of place on the porch.

In contrast, the porches of the young families and, in particular, the elderly couples, contain porch swings or other outdoor furniture that fits with their placement. There is one couple I often see a few doors down who spend their evenings on the porch sitting together and reading.

These two seatings, the couch and the porch swing, present very different understandings of possessions. The college students are, almost universally, aware that a couch is not designed to endure the outside, even on a covered porch, yet they are perfectly willing to place it there. Perhaps at the heart of this is the temporary nature of college life; these young men will be in that house for only a couple of years, and probably will not be in the town following that. The couch is only something they have for a brief period of time and they have no particular incentive for keeping it in good condition.

The families, young and old, on the other hand are seeking to create homes. Their long term plans include upkeep of their property and at least nascent understanding that it has a value worth protecting.

The fundamental problem I see is that the college senior is just as likely as the freshmen to treat things poorly – probably more so as he has less time to use them before he rushes off to the real world. In fact it would be reasonable to say that it is the senior who teaches the freshman to treat things poorly. University should form a man not simply in regards to respect of knowledge (which is often degraded to simply knowledge), but also respect of persons (horribly lacking; just look at any college party) and of property. Today it has become four (five, six, seven) throwaway years, a chance to drink, party, ruin things, and hopefully live with a degree that will get you a job regardless of you learning anything.

This is, of course, not the universal sentiment, even among students. But it is the cultural position (there are not any popular college films about studying hard and working with the system) and one that is certainly prevalent. If people only learn how to respect once they are out in the world, married, raising kids, then college has failed them. Its job is to create real men and real women now, so that upon continuing on in life they are people who make the world a better place, a more human place. And that’s not done by couches but by porch swings.

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