by JS O’Brien
By overwhelming, popular demand (and if you haven’t met Doc Slammy, you don’t know the meaning of the word “overwhelming”), here is a point-by-point translation of Lena Antman’s letter to the editor that prompted me to write the first article in this series. I know I said before that I wouldn’t do this because it would be insulting your intelligence, but rest assured: I’m not insulting your intelligence, I’m insulting Slammy’s intelligence.
Here’s my analysis. Once you’ve read it, I’ll give my take on (drum roll please) exactly why so many, many bright kids steer clear of state universities.
A disappointing education
As my first year of college draws to a close, I realize that I have learned nothing academic from these hallowed halls at the University of Colorado.
Translation:My writing skills are such that I think hackneyed phrases like “hallowed halls” are wildly creative.
I am spending $8,000 per semester to have instructors teach me things that I already know. I am given assignments that take hours of my life to complete and leave me wondering what I was supposed to have gained.
Translation:My parentsare spending a pittance (by today’s standards) on my college education, but I can’t possibly benefit from it because I already know everything there is to know. Homework is just so boring. Why do I have to do this stuff, anyway? It takes hours and, since I already know it all, it’s completely useless.
My esteemed professors gab about their personal lives, their vendettas, drop names of people in their field all while leading tedious discussions and teaching us to be overly critical and judgmental of ideas presented by others.
Translation:I’ll use the word “esteemed” to show my contempt for those who are way more learned than I, then I’ll accuse them of spending a few moments in class trying to provide a relaxed and collegial atmosphere when what they should be doing is lecturing us non-stop for the whole period. If any of my professors disagree with a colleague or two and say so, that’s a “vendetta.” If any of my professors mention the names of those who’ve done well-respected and original research in a field, that’s not acknowledgement, that’s “name-dropping.”
I find discussions tedious because I can’t follow them and I’m not good at them. What I want is for teachers to just lecture me on some facts so that I can memorize them and regurgitate them for the tests. That’s what learning is. Other’s ideas (and, BTW, my own ideas) deserve to be treated with respect, regardless of their merit. Even an “idea” that’s nothing more than an unsupported opinion deserves to be considered, and we students deserve to be patted on the head just for having an idea in the first place.
In one of my classes, we read articles and classmate-written papers and are instructed to “tear them apart.” I feel a student is only rewarded when they offer up a witty biting criticism, rather than a clearly presented idea or even a compliment.
Translation:All that boring Enlightenment stuff like subjecting ideas to strong criticism to see if they can stand up to a determined attack is useless. Instead, we should praise everyone for even having a thought if it’s “clearly presented.”
We learn to say what is wrong with something but rarely are we asked how to make it right. In college, the classroom is full of those sharing problem after problem, those who are too shy to speak their opinions at all, worried about getting criticized, and those like me who are just waiting for the learning to start and are left wanting more.
Translation: I think we should not only criticize some Faulkerian passages for their prolixity, but tell everyone how we are all better writers than Faulkner and how we would fix his prose. Personally, I’m afraid to say anything for fear of being criticized. I want the learning to begin, so just give me a lecture and let me write things down and parrot them back when the time comes.
But my education hasn’t been a total bust; I’ve learned how to stretch two pages of information into a 10-page paper, where the best parties are on a Thursday night, how to use Facebook in lecture and just how small one person can write on the one note card allowed in the exam room. Perhaps I am just an idealistic youth who thought I would learn something more from my liberal arts education at CU. I can’t help being disappointed at what exactly college has turned out to be.
Translation: I don’t have the research skills or the necessary intellect to actually find enough information for a ten-page paper, so I’ve learned to stretch a tiny amount of information into ten pages using phrases like “really, really, really, really liked this passage” or cool, creative phrases like “hallowed halls.” I hate having to actually think (memorization is so much better, don’t you think?), so I party and use Facebook during my classes, then blame the faculty for that. I was so idealistic about just sitting there like a bump on a log so that my professors could just pour knowledge into me, so I could write it down. I’m so disappointed that my ideals have been so badly betrayed.
So, why do so many of the brightest kids around head to colleges that are so selective that only other very, very bright kids can get in? Because they don’t want to be in classes with kids like Lena Antman. I know a lot of these Ivy League-type kids. They took all honors and AP/IB courses in high school not because they enjoyed the brutality of it, but because they didn’t want to be in classes with kids like Lena Antman.
If you believe that learning is about short-term memorization for the test then, by all means, attend your local state U (unless it’s a school like Berkeley, William and Mary, Michigan, Virginia, or North Carolina where you’ll probably be forced to think). For those of you who actually want to learn cognitive skills, let me give you some advice: trying to have a good in-class discussion, where one sharpens one’s thinking skills, in a class full of Lena Antmans, is like trying to sharpen a knife on overcooked rigatoni.
Go into debt. Get a real education.