Tuesday, October 17, 2006

College and Maturity

I would almost feel criminal to say this: the collegiate system that we have in place today is not working. I would feel criminal because I am stealing your time. Everyone involved in higher education knows that this is true to some degree or another. Part of the issue, I think, is that colleges don't know what they are to be about. They want to be all things to all students. Think of the gradiose promises made (not always explicitly): jobs, money, a spouse (or a lot of sex, at least), "education", beauty, self-fulfillment, and maturity. The last one, I think, is the most devious (no way I spelled that right). When students get out of college, we consider them "adults." From my own experience and from the way I see many students acting (not all, mind you) this is just not the case. We are graduating students who cannot discerningly read, argue anything past ad hominems (once again disregard spelling), or spell. Nor do we graduate disciplined people able to handle their affairs without state, church, or further familial assistance (the vast amounts of debt money required to become "adults" doesn't help either). The funny thing is that they just spent 3-7 years in a discipline.

Part of this, of course, is the students' responsibility. If you are at college, or are going to college, you need to consider how you are using your time. I did not use mine wisely at college, better than some I'd like to think, but that is not for me to decide. One of the questions that unfortunately gets posed too late at the institution I teach for is: why are you here at college? Many, of course, would say to get a job or a better job. For some, this will happen: if you major in business, engineering, or go do graduate work in the sciences. Getting a job isn't a bad thing by any means and jobs in other fields are to be found, but you'd better distance yourself from your contemporaries if you hope to actually get a good job. That extra time not spent in class (a typical week has 144 hours in it, plus a day of rest--typical class time is 15-20 hours, not exactly strenuous) could better be spent doing something like writing trenchant movie or music reviews that get you noticed by people in the field. Both of these gentlemen are an inspiration to me from their hard work at cultural discernment and criticism, something I am woefully inadequate at.

In other words, book learning and sitting half awake in a lecture can only get you so far. There comes a day of reckoning when all that "learning" comes to call: when you need to move out and move on. Your professors can't learn this stuff for you, nor should you rely on them to spoon feed it to you. If you aren't in the library reading up on as much outside information concerning your discipline as you can, you are putting yourself at a distinct disadvantage. Those that like to (somewhat elitistly, it is for sure) think of themselves as the "best and the brightest" act like it: they work hard for it.

The greatest disadvantage that our collegiate system is forcing on students is the idea of "talent." True, some people seem more created for the sciences. All that means is that the "non-gifted" student needs to work harder and smarter at it--and then tell their future employers or future customers or future whatevers about it! If our students knew that the key to getting ahead academically is to burn the midnight oil, then we would see some truly gifted (albeit tired) students. It wouldn't hurt, however, if when they are having trouble, they came to their professors or classmates that have gone before them for help. So many students labor in a rigid isolation that keeps them from seeing how communities pass on and enhance learning. So little work in the world is done in a vacuum, except vacuum mechanics 101.


Janet said...

i'd have to agree with you in a lot of ways. which sucks because that puts a lot of my school ethic in some poo. i'd like to say that i also set myself up for a bit of an advantage for how much i've looked for work during my college career. i don't understand how other people aren't doing the same. the future boss isn't looking for a class that i took or what grade i got in it, but what experience i've had. so, i could go on to say what experience i have from the things we did in our production class, but the grade i got on that test doesn't matter at all.

i'm slowly learning myself that college is more than just getting this degree.

another thought, is it really up to someone else to inform these students to work harder and learn on their own? most likely the kids won't listen until they want to already do these things.

Qere Ketiv said...

Janet, I agree completely. That's the kicker, though, for a professor. How do you convince someone to self-learn/self-teach if they aren't already at least somewhat convinced of it? Sigh.

Keith Martel said...

sounds like you've been a teaching in the humanities. my experience at Duquesne has been an interesting contrast to Geneva... we should talk sometime.

Qere Ketiv said...

Interestingly enough, this post had nothing to do with my humanities students. I've been very impressed by them.

Big Al said...

back in the day when I was a freshman in college...a friend of mine who was a senior said that his classes have only taken him so far. He spent hours researching and reading on his own. Maybe that is because he absolutely loved his major and field and saw a lack of information in the classroom.

I have said and still believe that most of my learning in college and development has occured outside of the classroom. Even though tradition education has ticked me off many of times...where do we use it as a stepping stone and create passions in students to go further from the places that can create mundane zombies "adults"?

Buddy Chamberlain said...

Russ, I applaud you. You've managed to gather into a pithy post many of the things that still bother me when I reflect on that academic venture of almost four years ago...

I particularly like your comments on the concept of "giftedness". I think the college seems to push students to find something they're good at, or enjoy, or are "called" to (will Covanentors burn me for this?), and then unwittingly promise that if the above can be done, you will find untold happiness and success in your field. Thus, when Joe Freshman spends the minimum amount of time on the class material and then finds himself struggling with the course, he wonders if he is really in his "calling"...

(PS, I was Joe Freshman, if you're wondering.)

Now was my college experience a waste? Developmentally, no... But maybe I was the exception. And I sure won't say I got my $80K adulthood. Despite my debt, I still feel immature quite often.

But occupationally, college cannot deliver on it's sales pitch. And especially small private schools like our Alma Mater. If you need an engineering or nursing degree, go to Pitt or OSU (Go Bucks!). Go to a big state school as an in-state student, and enjoy attending televised football games. And if you don't need that specialization, get a library card, join a book discussion, frequent a coffee shop (had to throw a plug in for ya), or attend public lectures. Enrich yourself at a pace that your budget can support.

Wanna become a better person? Find something to volunteer for. Do some public service. Make friends with locals. That will make you a better person. Books help, but people are best.

Ok, I got a bit preachy there. Sorry. Keep up the good writing, Russ. Tell Doctors Guthrie, Miller, Opitz, Kilpatrick, and Mattson-Boze that I am doing well and say "hello".