Soapbox: Fear and Loathing In The Student Union
There are two statements that I feel confident in expressing about this website. 1) It is largely focused on topics relating directly or indirectly with gaming, and 2) it is mine. Number 2 should not necessarily be seen as in conflict with the idea that it also belongs to Certis, as I think the two concepts exist in an oddly stable balance that, like Nitroglycerin, maintains quiet constancy when not disturbed. By and large, assumption 1 takes precedence, and we keep our focus on generating content that does not dramatically deviate from readerÃ‚'s expectations, but the very existence of assumption 2 allows for rare deviation into a realm of issues that relate only with our lives beyond digitized fiction, and probably are of interest to a number of people best counted on a single hand.Today is such a day, and I offer the opportunity to read more only for those with voyeuristic tendencies matched by an equal desire for mundanity. I really know how to generate enthusiasm for these articles don't I!
What I want to know is: what happened to the University environment? When I was young I imagined that a University would be a place that one attended in the effort to accumulate knowledge from experts paid to distribute knowledge, where one would be then quizzed on the knowledge accumulated, and that an arbitrary letter grade below G and inexplicably excluding the letter E would be assigned for the retention of said knowledge. I imagined the college student’s brain much like a sponge, of varying volumes, which one could choose to saturate with education or beer depending. Occasionally, some might be able to blend the two into some kind of hyper-intelligent drunken state, though when regurgitated (in a variety of ways) said information would not be as pure as when absorbed, and would probably stink a bit. The gist of my point is that I envisioned an environment based on accumulation and regurgitation.
This is not how Universities work in a Liberal Arts track.
I began my college career as a lush. That didn’t pan out so well, and for a long time it looked as though I might become an advanced lush with a minimum wage job loading boxes from a dock into a truck. This was not a particularly substantive life for me, as I can be the sort of person who will suddenly and for no apparent reason consider the properties of time as a structured dimension in the same universal context as space, and formulate a (wrong) theory on the associations of the two. This was different from my coworkers who measured with equal consideration exactly how many beers would be necessary to sleep with Loretta Lynn, many of whom inexplicably answered none. The very possibility that the constituent elements which bonded in frightening quantum ways to form Loretta Lynn had been birthed in distant long-dead stars and ejaculated into the universe through explosions that could wreak havoc across light-years had never, not once, occurred to them.
I guess you should understand that I have a non-traditional inverted inferiority complex, which means that, by and large, I consider a great many people to be far inferior. If I may steal a moment of honest insight, because I have serious doubts that any of you are reading this and will hold me accountable, I am an incredibly judgmental person. It’s a weakness that motivates me nicely, if only for the reason that I never ever want to be compared with most people. If I find myself in the minority on most issues, it is likely because in my opinion the minority probably have a little better insight than those who’ve lumped themselves in with the opinion of Skippy who runs the Mobil Station near 4th street. Of course, there are obvious exceptions, usually moral ones, in which I will agree with the vast majority that, no you can not poke a number 2 pencil through your neighbor’s ear when he leaves his barking dog out overnight, and no you can’t run Driving Instructor vehicles off the road for sport, but that should go without saying. I’m not suggesting I’m a psychopath, only that people are stupid.
Ultimately this blend of forces drove me back to University, where I began to study Computer Science. I’m sure many of you have studied CS in some capacity along the way, and to you I scratch my head and wonder how you trudged through. Granted I studied this field at Auburn University where they helpfully taught us a language that pretty much no one uses anymore, Ada, if in fact anyone ever did. Ada, developed by the Department of Defense to guide missiles and frustrate studennts, is in many ways like C, except that it is much more boring. I pushed on for a considerable amount of time, and learned many important functions that I’ve since happily forgotten. I remember we talked about stacks at one point, and then we did something with searching algorithms, and I think I cried for a while.
When I left Auburn I was very happy. I’m pretty sure I gestured rudely at Auburn several times on the way out. I can say, however, that CS molded itself a lot more closely to the ideas I had about Universities as we accumulated knowledge of a kind, and then implemented that knowledge to create something else entirely. It was a slight deviation, but it made sense. The University of Minnesota, where I’ve since changed to a Humanities track does not make sense.
First there is a focus on group work. If I had to pick one thing that I would expunge from the University system as a whole, and perhaps drag into the street and club with an axe handle, it would be the concept of group work, and possibly Philosophy majors. Here we see my superiority flaring, because I’m pretty sure that every group I’ve ever been a part of has been hampered largely by the inclusion of other humans to my important work. I know it’s a bit delusional, but I’m pretty sure that every idea I have is a really good idea, which is why I go around having ideas in the first place. Group work only presents the problem that other people who are not quite so visionary may corrupt or even reject my ideas, which is fine in some respects except that I still have to suffer the graded results.
Second is the idea of subjectivity. Now, don’t get me wrong. The very existence of subjectivity as a valid educational strategy means that I will graduate with a very impressive looking number. The problem, is that so will everyone else. In the subjective environment one can soak up, or not, information from a class, then blend it or even replace it in your porous cerebral material with any number of substances, squeeze out the resultant solution on a piece of paper and present it as a well reasoned argument. The only possible way to fail a class these days is to physically assault your professor during class with a garden rake, and even then you’d have to do it in such a way so not to be interpreted as a physical manifestation of T.S. Eliot’s isolated despair in his Lucretia imagery.
But, finally, and most insidious of all is the focus on "Critical Thinking Strategies". I’m just waiting for the day when the Board of Regents decide to eliminate all Liberal Arts majors for an overreaching Bachelor’s of Critical Thinking. I swear, the next time some Birkenstock wearing teaching assistant tells me to think critically about a subject I’m going to take that black beret out of his hemp backpack and stuff it down his clove cigarette smoking pie-hole! I mean, isn’t thinking critically kind of the whole point of thinking about anything in the first place, do they really need to make it a directive to not think stupidly about a topic.
"Class, would anyone like to discuss the allegorical significance of the whiteness of Melville’s whale in Moby Dick?"
"No, think critically. Critically."
"Oh, then you must be referring to the duality of the whale as a force of both God and destruction as a foil to Ahab’s obsessive darkness."
Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited that I’ll be receiving my degree come May, and I’m certainly convinced that a college degree is a practical necessity in today’s world, but I had hoped so very much that I might complete the track with slightly more practical knowledge. It seems to me, considering how liberally high marks are distributed in a University environment that now frowns on competition, that a degree has much less to do with knowledge or enlightenment, and much more to do with endurance. I think the most a degree says to potential employers now is: Look how long I’ll stick with an exhausting project despite its inherent flaws. Hire me!