A neat post by a wonderful fellow blogger, titled “Dropouts”, caught my attention today. In it, the author discusses various successful people who never attended or finished college (or university for my British lovelies).
The post got me thinking about the current exalted regard for a college education in the US (but only if a degree program is completed, of course), the staggering price tag of tuition, the enormous amount of debt with which graduates are left, and the bleak jobscape that awaits them, even once a diploma is in hand.
I’m starting to wonder if maybe attending more years of school could actually be detrimental to some?
I attended college for a total of 12.5 years, not including my massage therapy program (which was done completely separately, during my undergrad years) or any post-doctoral training, which is the equivalent of 6-9 more years so far, and I’m gearing up for about 2-3 more). The first 6-7 college years were spent changing college majors (a total of 7-8 times), and so, I’ve taken my share of lower-level courses and jumped through my share of hoops. 😉
I completely understand the need for the lower-level “foundational” courses. They expose students to a variety of topics and create a more well-rounded individual. Everybody wins.
But there’s a slight problem. The problem does not lie in the idea of obtaining such a well-rounded foundation; it lies in the methods too-often utilized in these classes.
It didn’t take me long to figure out the pattern. Even madness has methods. Not all methods are created equal. The pattern was what I came to call “The 3 Ps” – Paper, Project, Presentation, collectively known (by me) as “busywork”. Nearly every class (and its instructor) followed this formula, with very few exceptions. The 3 Ps were in addition to quizzes and exams. And 2 of The 3 Ps almost always involved–ugh—group work.
There was also a sort of egotistical vibe to many classes, some more than others. All too often, professors would operate as though their class was the only one you were taking and the only one you should care about. All Your Time Belong To Us. The problem is, they didn’t earn that kind of motivation or interest; their material was dry and their examination questions were (sub)standard, rote memorization of minutia.
And there were so many of those classes to take along the way. Required, all of them.
Once I graduated, however, that’s when the real learning began. It was also much more fun and interesting. The motivation spark ignited. I became much more creative and productive.
My only regret? That I couldn’t get out of school sooner.
I graduated school at age 32, with a doctor degree, after spinning my wheels from the fall of 1996 to the spring of 2000 and then again from the beginning of 2002 to the end of 2004, after which I started the pre-med stage. That’s 6.5 years of spinning, spitting gravel, and traveling very little distance. Because each class emphasized The 3 Ps without fail and it was necessary to work 20-30 hours per week while in school, I could realistically only take 2 or 3 classes at a time (instead of, say, 4-6), which prolonged my educational path and delayed my release into the world. There was simply too much busywork, a term I never uttered without extreme exasperation.
I’m starting to wonder what would/could have happened if I could have trimmed the counterproductive BS and extracted the important information from each class, and spent, say, 3-4 years learning and absorbing heart of that information instead. No busywork, no hoop-jumping, just learning and digesting information. No important information would be sacrificed, ignored, or skipped over; only the pointless fat would be trimmed.
More importantly, where would I be now, had I been able to shave 2-3 years off of my college path? I’ve worked my tail off over the past 7 years and accomplished much. I’ve probably learned just as much after graduating as I did in all my years of school, and I’ve produced, created, and accomplished far more in my post-grad years than I did in my school years. What if I could have eliminated the busywork and blazed through school at a faster pace, and graduated earlier, with the benefit of having 2-3 more years under my belt by now?
Again, I’m wondering if the excessive amounts of busywork currently piled on college students in every single class could actually be a detriment to their education and indeed their lives. The busywork simply keeps people occupied doing menial crap, satisfying requirements whose importance could be debated, and jumping through unnecessary hoops, instead of being able to spend more of their lives utilizing the information they’ve learned, pursuing their dreams, developing their talents, acting on their intuition and intellect, coming up with ideas, fostering their creativity, and nurturing their inspiration.
It’s almost like the schools have a conspiratorial “Occupy Students (Lives)” agenda or something. People are spending more time in school than ever, getting later and later starts on their “real lives”, and then wondering why they’re middle-aged and haven’t gotten anywhere. Or at least, they’ve accomplished much less than they would have otherwise wanted to.
I think part of the answer lies in the schools; they occupy students’ time and energy, leaving them nothing with which to live their lives, develop their abilities, fulfill their dreams, and make their desired contributions to the world.
Screw busywork. 😉