Making the most of your education

Students always complain about their teachers. Teachers often complain about their students. But you know things are turning worse when students are complaining about their fellow students. But that is just what this American graduate student is doing in this letter:

Consumerism as ideology manifests itself in the academy, an unfortunate development that I hear professors griping about on a regular basis. In my personal experience, for example, my students fill out “class evaluations” at the end of every semester, offering critiques of the class they have taken. You wouldn’t believe how many of them view education as a commercial transaction, saying that they don’t believe that they “should pay money to attend this required class (science, history, whatever in the core curriculum) that has nothing to do with my major.” They seem to think that college is like Burger King — Get It Your Way!

The letter contains a lot of remarks like this, and sparked a lively debate in the comments. A commenter monikered peBird posted a list of advice to students to help them understand what getting an education is all about. I’ve taken the liberty to cherrypick from that list (leaving out advice on golf and horseback riding):

Try this:

  • Don’t expect anything of value from the administration except bullshit.
  • You can’t avoid smelling it, but don’t swallow.
  • Read more than you ever thought you could.
  • Learn a foreign language. Or two.
  • Read about the history of slavery in the US.
  • Turn off the iPod.
  • Learn to work.
  • No body cares what degree you got or what courses you took – just that you had the endurance to get one.
  • Network with students to build relationships beyond school.
  • Remember there is no crystal ball; your parents raised you for a world that no longer exists.

This may sound conceitedly cranky and bitter, but I find myself agreeing with most of this. The essence of this list is that education is not about “Getting it your way” but about “Making it yours”:

Don’t think that education is just a commodity – just a step on the way to your career. Going to school is about exposing yourself to all the ideas, theories and possibilities imaginable and finding out for yourself what you would like to pursue. It never becomes simply a matter of acquiring skills. It is always about finding yourself in what you learn.

Think for yourself. Find out how you can use what you’ve learned and seek new knowledge that interests you. Learn to work. Work to learn.

Make it yours!

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