Posts tagged college
I think research papers are a great idea. In fact, I think that the process of writing and researching a paper is one of the most valuable lessons we pull out of high school — and I don’t think our current system throws enough of them at our youth.
Now, chances are you think I am insane or hate me (unless you teach English or maybe history), but seriously — I promise I’m not crazy.
First, a little rant about how our educational system is broken.
Throughout grade school the way we are statistically measured is by tests. These tests are not created by the schools themselves but by the state or other higher-ups that choose material they believe the students should be learning. Often the scores of these tests are directly linked to jobs, funds and the public’s general view of what a “good” school is. Through the No Child Left Behind legislation “bad” scores cause schools to be directly punished, often in loss of government funds. I’m not quite sure how suspending funding forcing schools to fire staff boosts the grades of students, but that is another argument entirely.
In New Jersey we have the HSPA and GEPA (along with the CAT and numerous other tests). Since funding and image is directly linked to these two tests they have a huge influence on the curriculum. Years before students actually take the exam they learn facts, skills and other information specifically for the purpose of scoring high on these tests. If it doesn’t directly relate to high test scores it is typically removed from the curriculum. Standardized tests aren’t the only thing to blame, however. Since testing is widely seen as the easiest way to quickly measure aptitude in certain areas, history (among others) classes at the high school level often only focus on “hard” facts like dates and names. Questions are rarely open-ended and instead are strictly based on memorization. Ask a kid when the Korean War started and he could probably tell you, but ask him the significance of the war or the factors leading up to it — arguably the more important information — and chances are he will give you a blank stare.
So, what does all of this have to do with research papers? They are one of the few tools teachers have that can still help students score highly on the tests while teaching them the more abstract things behind the facts that are directly tested. When you have that first research paper in your English class and you’re asked to pick a topic, you must become immersed in it to a certain level to write a passing paper. You can’t just know the dates. You have to find out the whys and the hows. Someone writing about the Korean War will find out that it has nothing to actually do with Korea itself and everything to do with the relationship between the USSR and America during the post-WWII era. Sure, they will be able to throw some important dates at you — but they will be exposed to the important concepts that guided those dates into being.
Going through something you are lightly interested in is infinitely more engaging than memorizing numbers. Even if you aren’t “into” writing, reading about something and putting that information to use simply requires more interaction than memorization.
Let’s not kid ourselves, either. Do you remember any of the junk you memorized in high school? Hell, do you remember any of the stuff you were required to memorize in college? Unless you use the information on a weekly basis, chances are you don’t — and why would you? Unless it is a trivial fact you latched onto, it serves you little use. Its purpose was to get you through school so you could move to the next level and that was it.
On the other hand. the skills you pick up by writing a research paper aren’t something you forget. Learning how to use a database or simply how to pick apart truth from fiction in an educated manner is a powerful skill. As an adult in society it is something that is absolutely invaluable — and quite frankly, not enough adults have it. If more of us grew up in a society that put emphasis on doing research for yourself instead of just believing what you’re told then fewer people would be tricked into believing lies thrown at them from all angles. How many Americans take what they are told for granted? How many question and look into what they believe to be true?
It’s just a skill that isn’t emphasized enough in school. While it becomes a big deal when you reach college it is still barely touched on in most classes. Unless you are an English major you don’t really see too many of them — although I’m happy to say I’m seeing that change.
The real problem is not college though, its the root — high school. Throughout my time in high school I’m fairly certain I did one research paper and that was it. While I picked up some research skills on my own, many of my peers did not. Even simple things like using Google to find trustworthy sources come from doing a research paper. I’m still absolutely shocked by the number of people who don’t know how to properly use a search engine or database, something that is utterly amazing when doing any kind of research (Google scholar is a godsend, check it out).
We can’t forget that these skills translate incredibly well to the real world, too. The ability to “do research” translates over to being able to find a job, to not being fooled by politicians, to questioning those around you and almost every other aspect of life that your mind is involved in.
Let’s not forget the value in being able to write and communicate our ideas and thoughts with others. Writing a research paper is obviously something that assists in developing these skills. Not many people can argue against being able to communicate more effectively. Remember, I was an engineering major — I know how some people can be pretty brilliant but utterly useless when it comes to sharing their thoughts. It’s not a great thing and won’t exactly get you hired anywhere.
…I just realized I set out to point out the worth of research papers and ended up pretty much ranting about why being an English major has some advantages in the real world.
Welp. Guess that sort of works too.
Just this morning I read an article on digg exclaiming that the college experience is “worthless.” A handful of comments under the article itself seemed to solidify this. Many current (or past) college students seemed to be under the impression that the whole thing was a waste and that if you aren’t going for something that makes a lot of money, then you shouldn’t be going in the first place.
Indeed, I’ve heard my peers echo the same sentiment over the years, or at least similar thoughts. A good portion of friends find the whole college thing a waste, at least on an educational level. I know many who have graduated and headed into different directions from their degree. Was it just a piece of paper to be ignored? A place in life we all must visit in order to be successful, even if the words on the paper we receive have no meaning to us?
Watching the negative comments stream out from my fellow BCC students also seems to solidify this. Complaints about the education not being up to par, about it feeling like “13th grade” and most of all — a general disinterest with the content that is being taught.
So then, judging by the experiences of others I should be in a pretty poor place. I’m grabbing my English (an arts program, oh no!) degree with my first steps taking place in a county college. That’s the absolute worst, right?
Well, not quite.
Despite the local harbingers on social networking sites who yell about doom and gloom during their two year stay in purgatory, I’ve really never had a problem here. I’ve found the material interesting, certainly — and I’ve had some great professors over the last two years. Even my general education professors (the ones who are supposed to care the least, according to the vocal populace) have been amusing and willing to share their wisdom.
Now, my time hasn’t been completely positive. I’ve also had professors who’ve made my eyes roll so many times I’ve ended up with migraines — and on top of that, there was the one teacher who didn’t seem to understand the nature of Crohn’s disease and how it might impact me coming to class. But still, we don’t live in a perfect world and these experiences were few and far between.
So how is it that my experience is so positive? How is it that I’ve left virtually every class with a bit of wisdom (not just knowledge) that I continue to carry with me?
For one, I think it has to do with an incident from early on in my college experience — one that had been growing ever since I started high school.
I had always been the nerdy computer geek. The kid who everyone went to for technology or gadget advice. I certainly didn’t mind it, either. After all, I was under the impression that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to be a computer wizard for a living. Maybe I’d fix them, maybe I’d work with their insides — or maybe I’d work on securing them. I was absolutely sure that was what I was going to do. I was so certain about it that I had virtually planned out the next ten years of my life. I was going to go to county college for two years then transfer to Drexel where I would switch my major from engineering to computer engineering and be off to a world of high paying jobs, white picket fences and prestige from colleagues… or something like that.
I’d even picked up a job in the field I was interested in during my junior year in high school. It didn’t seem too bad at first. I then landed in class and something changed.
After spending three years in the field I thought I loved so much I realized that maybe it wasn’t for me. Turns out, it was just a hobby. On top of that, I looked at the list of classes I’d have to take and started to panic. For some reason, it had never occurred to me that I would probably be programming a hell of a lot with this degree. Sure, I could do that — but I hated it. I would be doing this possibly for the rest of my life? I sunk. What was I going to do? I stopped caring. My GPA plummeted. I was utterly confused. My whole life? The prospect seemed damning. Nine to five — living for the weekends while I died a little bit every day. Sure, I’d make good money but would it be worth it? What would the cost to my state of happiness be? I went by for months, eager to join the other apathetic souls who surrounded me, all who had fallen into majors that were filled with uncertainty and a special kind of soul-crushing negativity.
And then I was given a gift. An adjunct professor who taught my English 101 class. Up to this point I had considered English classes fun — but easy. English had indeed been three-fourths of my day my senior year of high school, but it was just interesting, right? Nothing I would want to do in the future…
It had never struck me that I truly enjoyed them, apparently.
I entered the class and immediately took a liking to the professor. He was a pretty young guy and had a teaching style that seemed very “college” to me. He was chill, but intelligent and came off as immediately caring about his students. I enjoyed the way he taught and found myself enthralled by the tidbits we read. Not only was I learning things I found quite interesting, but I was -enjoying- the learning process itself. Not that I’m the type that hates that sort of thing — but it wasn’t quite like this before.
At the height of my educational depression I had a sudden thought: What if this could be my path?
Here was a guy who at his heart, seemed a lot like me. He was a gamer and had a flair for fantasy, he had a bit of quirkiness and most of all he seemed enthralled by what he was teaching (and thus, learning, I’d imagine). Here was a subject that had always come so easy to me, one that I’d always enjoyed talking and reading about — but I’d never thought I could make a career out of it, so it remained somewhere in the back of my head, never to be found again until I was 50 and regretting most of my life.
I remember staying after one day and asking him about switching my major. “If it seems like something you want to do then go for it.” He offered help if I had any questions — an offer I would take him up on a few times in the future.
I played the whole idea in my head throughout the semester until one day I decided to take his advice and just go for it. I remember the look on the counselor’s face when I handed her the paperwork to change my major from engineering to English. It was this “have you lost your mind?” blank stare. Don’t you know what you’re doing man? You’re going to live in a box!
I just smiled. I had found a path that I enjoyed.
From that point on I found my classes much more enjoyable. The experience went from tedious to something I loved. Now when I walk into a class for my major I am always excited to find out just what I’ll be learning. I take pride in the papers I write and in the answers I give in class — and most of all, in the experience itself. It is something I wouldn’t want to give up and something I feel is completely worth the money.
The link, to me, is simple. I enjoy it because I want to enjoy it. When I was an engineering major I had no real love for it, so how could I possibly find an honest interest in it? Passion is like a conduit for wisdom — it can be gained without, but when that desire exists your mind turns into something else entirely. You become hungry. You want more.
I feel that the main problem in my peers is that the “hunger” just doesn’t exist. They aren’t there because they want to be, they are there because their parents (or social expectations) want them to be. Many of my friends have explicitly said that they’ve wanted to do something that wasn’t college-related with their life (such as go to tech school) but that they had no choice because their parents pushed them so hard. So $50,000 and 4 years later, they’re lost and without direction mostly feeling like college was a complete waste.
It isn’t all on the parents, though. I know many of my old high school peers picked certain majors simply because of prestige or because “it makes a lot of money” — they have no actual heart for it. They slog through the degree for their own reasons, rarely sharing anything from their own college experiences that isn’t a complaint.
Not only that, but in today’s society how are you even supposed to figure out your own path? We are rushed from high school immediately into college with little room to decide what we want to do. Being undeclared or not immediately starting up college is seen both by guidance (or head offices, if you prefer) and your peers as sort of a faux pas — you are almost expected to jump head first into a major and if you find out you don’t like it later on? Well, -maybe- you can change it, but the nature of the system means you will often be pushing yourself deep into debt, so you end up tossing around, miserable for four years of your life until you finally graduate with a piece of paper that rightfully means little to you.
So is there a solution to this cycle? What advice can I give you (or any other college student) for enjoying your experience and not ending up miserable and hating class? If at all possible, examine your own life and the major you’ve chosen. Do a little soul searching and ask yourself some questions. Do you enjoy your major now? Do you think you will enjoy where it takes you? What do you want to do when you get out of college? Does your major line up with that goal? If you can’t figure out the answers to these questions, then maybe it’s time to do some serious thinking. Take some time off and try something new, or if you are the kind of person that can’t afford to get out of school for parental reasons (or otherwise) then try to take classes outside of your comfort zone, even if they make little sense.
Remember that the educational experience is just that — an experience. It is not meant to be a terrible period of your life that you hate and chances are, if you do hate it — you won’t be enjoying the work that comes after, either. Above all remember that your professors were once in your shoes and that they probably are very willing to share some of their wisdom to get you out of your slump and onto your path. I mean, if nothing else it’s better than complaining about them on facebook!