About Me

My name is Spencer. I'm 23 years old, and I'm a junior at Princeton. So far college has taken me five years. I've taken time off to work, transferred to USC and come back, and learned a lot along the way.

I like to think about life and what I'm going to do with mine.

I've met a lot of people my age with the same sorts of thoughts so feel free to read, take surveys, and comment.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Listen and learn: What we learn in college

On the same night that I met "Kevin," I also met a university professor. Let's call her "Jane." As soon as I met her, I knew that Jane was extremely smart. She had a stereotypical quirky teacher's sense of humour and always had something interesting to say. Nevertheless, she and I did not get along, and for most of the dinner, we differed in opinion on almost every single subject that came up. Despite that, it was very grounding and stimulating to hear the opposite side to every one of my arguments.

Later on, we started talking about college, stress, and what the pros and cons of university are. This, for me, was a chance I'd never had before... to talk to a college professor at a top-tier school about the current university school system.

Rather than hashing out everything that we said, let me concentrate on the most important lesson I learned from talking to her. Jane told me that "we go to college to learn to learn."

I thought about that statement for a second. I had never articulated or thought of college in that way, but now that I had heard it, it's very true. At university, we are given information, but we are the ones who figure out what to do with it. We decide what to write about, what to study, and what pieces of information are important. We learn how to take that information and turn it into something useful, such as a paper, a conclusion, a proof, or even a program or a project.

Despite the fact that Jane's statement is true in principle, that still does not mean that it actually happens as such in reality. It may or may not. I'm not sure, but I think it's different for every student.

In the past year, I have come to believe that college classroom environments don't necessary help us "learn to learn." Between competition, the importance and focus on grades, and the amount of work that we students get, it's hard to really recognize that we are supposed to "learn to learn." Yes, it is true that competition in the classroom varies depending on the field and the institution, but nobody can deny its existence. Similarly, it's fact that grades and class standing still have a major impact on the interviews, jobs, and opportunities presented to us when we graduate no matter what counselors tell us.

Both competition and the societal importance of grades force us students to study for a good grade as opposed to studying to learn. In my opinion, it inadvertently and subliminally tells us students to seek out what we do well at rather than to explore new areas and take new risks, which makes it quite difficult to figure out what we actually like and are interested in studying. To us, there's no point in risking a grade if it will affect us in a seemingly grand way, right?

Additionally, as a freshman, I realized that it's simply not possible to do all your assignments, all your reading, and meet all your deadlines unless you work 24/7. I understand schools do that in an attempt to teach us time management and the relative importance of tasks; however, because of the perceived need to do extremely well in the classroom, that strategy simply makes all students significantly more stressed out and can, I think, cause mental pain and anxiety.

Nevertheless, I think we could all benefit by remembering that university is a place where we "learn to learn." Take a few risks, and try some new classes and subjects.

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