The sad truth about higher “learning”

By James Keller

Over the years, between classes and homework, something has occurred to me that’s rather disheartening. It’s possible to go through university, get a degree and never learn a thing.

This might seem a little confusing at first–after all, you need to pass tests, write papers and otherwise know what you’re talking about to get a passing grade, right? Well, sort of. Anyone can take notes, study them the day before and remember all they can for a final or while they write a paper. What this requires is a good short-term memory. It does not require any thought or understanding of concepts you are taught, nor does it require you to remember what you’ve learned for more than the three hours or so it takes to write your exam.

As much as I am loathe to admit it, I’m guilty of this as well. Looking back at some of my "breadth" requirements from my first year, I honestly can’t remember half of what those courses taught me, regardless of how relevant they are. Briskly walking through your university career like this is unfortunate and, if you do, you’ve missed the point. After all, what good is taking an English course if you never read Shakespeare? A communications class if you’ve never read Marshall McLuhan? Instead, you listened just hard enough to list off the prof’s main points on the final and promptly forget it.

Sadly, prerequisites and required options breed this sort of academic laziness, even though these courses build the foundations to understanding larger concepts or, at the very least, broaden your perspective in the future. The attitude that all one needs is a course recorded on their transcripts with a passing grade is where this begins. The attitude that this outlook on academia can be applied unilaterally to university learning is where it ends–and, sadly, it often ends this way.

The nature of university education allows this to happen. The attitude that "C means degree," coupled with the ease of floating through courses while oblivious to what’s being taught, is entirely the fault and responsibility of students. It is up the these students to take their education seriously, realizing that not only will you see the world differently, but you’ll actually get some value from the $20,000 or so you’ve spent to be here.

Again, there seems to be no incentive to change this mantra of higher learning. Whether you employ this approach or not, it’s still possible to get a degree with only a token effort. Perhaps the real incentive should be found looking ahead, after you have your little piece of paper that said, for better or for worse, you jumped through the hoops of university and got your much coveted passing grade. After all, what good is a management degree when you have no idea how to manage?


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