Confessions of a College Student

I used to really enjoy learning! Having been in higher education for six years now, I feel as if that ambition has been picked away at more and more each quarter. The emphasis on grades is mentally taxing!

I want to be the best student I can be. However, in the eyes of the current educational system, that means specializing in memorizing specific ideas and using them too often in abstract ways. I have always wanted to relate ideas to other concepts in real-life, and as a result bring my education “to life.” But there is no reward for that, if anything, I lose time I could have spent continuing the cycle of memorizing enough to pass but not understand.

University favors strategic learning in place of deep learning. As vital as deep learning is for being successful in industry, it is too often neglected and not incentivized. Unfortunately, any beneficial deep-learning gets pushed to one’s free-time, if you have the privilege of having a lot of free-time during college. This unfortunate factor leads to the loss of so much talent. But for now, many of us including myself will have to get by with strategic learning until we are granted a diploma.

3 thoughts on “Confessions of a College Student

  1. Your words, your story, your lived reality: these are some of the many, many reasons why I started conquering college so many years ago.

    I feel sad and angry when I really meditate on the feelings you communicate in this post. Your words are so strong, so meaningful. I do not believe in what this system has done and is continuing to do to block your learning. In my own educational journey, I used to feel like I had to succeed in spite of the system, not because of it. I see that same sentiment in your words.

    The system purports to focus on deep learning. There is an entire infrastructure to broadcast that narrative in our media: movies, newspapers, radio ads, high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. I’ve even seen a pre-school with college banners on the wall. Remember though: so many of the people that propagate that message survived the system. They may have horror stories of their own classes. They may have wished for a better experience. But they survived and moved on.

    This is how a broken system re-invents itself, year-after-year, decade-after-decade. This is also why it’s so important to advocate for the 6th point in our mission statement (https://thelearningcode.school.blog/2020/08/09/our-mission-the-learning-code/) which reads:

    Empower you to advocate for system transformation for the next generations.

    One thing that is true in your case is you are coming to a much different level of consciousness than most students who navigate this system. You are thinking very deeply about what it means to learn, what it means to teach, and what it means to be student-centered. And the moment you do this, you begin to realize just how broken this system is. This system is based on domination and control. If forces students to conform. Those who do not conform in the way the system expects, will get weeded out.

    As you navigate and continue to earn your degree, let’s make the 6 points of TLC come alive for you. I have a feeling that if we can make these principles come alive for you, really support you in bringing these to reality, not only will you learn to survive our system and thrive in the ways you want, but you may also develop new visions for the future of our world. It is in these visions for a better world, one without the suffering that you feel in your classes, that the real progress begins.

    I try really hard to change the systems in my classes. Critical reflection, growth, and change is a life-long process and is part of my teaching practice. Eventually though, I came to realize that regardless of all the great work I do in my own classes, it doesn’t matter so much for my students if the system outside my classes stays the same.

    I see three important challenges that I have in this work:
    1. Change myself and my classes. Work like my life depended on it to re-educate my mind, make my classes more equitable, and learn how to teach to transgress (as bell hooks might say).

    2. Find ways to empower students who are navigating this system. Empower students work the system to their own benefit in honor of the larger vision of advocating for change for the next generation. Learning theses skills is not a selfish act. It’s leveraging the power of community to fight for future students. This is at the heart of my personal vision for the TLC. One of the reasons I asked you to join is because you are one of the strongest people I have ever met. You are a hero. If we can find ways to empower you, I know you will learn to leverage that strength in ways that are hard to imagine. Slow and steady, day-by-day.

    3. Find ways to empower the next generation of revolutionary educators. For years, I kept thinking that the best way to change the system was to try to convince the current generation of college instructors to change their ways. But so many of these folks are too invested in the current system. They don’t have enough incentive to feel the pain of the many students that never finish. They have bought into a narrative that when students fail it is because the students were not ready for the college system. They can’t see (either because of bad policies or active denial) the truth that when students fail, it is because the system is not ready for the student.

    At this point in my career, I think it’s so much more useful to focus our energy on the next generation of educators (here I am using the general definition of an educator as someone who inspires learning not necessarily someone who gets a paycheck to teach).

    This reminds me of a quote that I collected when reading about Einstein. He was trying to get the old guard in physics to buy into his theory of relativity and there was so much resistance in the upper echelon of academic physicists who populated top universities. And I remember a description that wen like this: the old guard never fully accepted Einstein’s theories. Instead, they got old, retired, and were replaced by younger professionals. This is how science changed.

    Sadly, I see this as a reality in so many spaces in my professional life. Real change will happen not by changing the mind of those that control the current academic world. Instead, change happens when we empower the next generation and slowly wait to replace those who are growing older by the minute. Sad but true.

    I have another comment I’ll share in a minute about a principle I like to maintain to try to protect myself against becoming old in a way that prohibits the type of deep reflection I believe is needed in order to stay flexible, even in old age.

    In any case, I support your efforts to be strategic. Learn to thrive in the system as it is. Continue to educate yourself. Continue to find ways to do self-care, nurture your mind, and surround yourself with people who you feel support you just the way you are.

    Si se puede Steve. You are not the problem. The system is the problem. And, since we are the system, we have the power to change the features we like the least…

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  2. In terms of staying agile and flexible as I get older, I strive to apply an inductive attitude to the features of my professional life that I believe matter the most.

    In his book “Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning, Volume 1”, George Pulya (the author of How to Solve It) describes an inductive attitude below:

    “In our personal life we often cling to illusions. That is, we do not dare to examine certain beliefs which could be easily contradicted by experience, because we are afraid of upsetting our emotional balance. There may be circumstances in which it is not unwise to cling to illusions, but in science we need a very different attitude, the inductive attitude. This attitude aims at adapting our beliefs to our experience as efficiently as possible. It requires a certain preference for what is matter of fact. It requires a ready ascent from observation to generalizations, and a ready descent from the highest generalizations to the most concrete observations. It requires saying “maybe” and “perhaps” in a thousand different shades. It requires many other things, especially the following three.

    First, we should be ready to revise any one of our beliefs.

    Second, we should change a belief when there is a compelling reason to change it.

    Third, we should not change a belief wantonly, without some good reason.

    These points sound pretty trivial. Yet one needs rather unusual qualities to live up to them.

    The first point needs ‘intellectual courage.’ You need courage to revise your beliefs. Galileo, challenging the prejudice of his contemporaries and the authority of Aristotle, is a great example of intellectual courage.

    The second point needs ‘intellectual honesty.’ To stick to my conjecture that has been clearly contradicted by experience just because it is my conjecture would be dishonest.

    The third point needs ‘wise restraint.’ To change a belief without serious examination, just for the sake of fashion, for example, would be foolish. Yet, we have neither the time nor the strength to examine seriously all our beliefs. Therefore it is wise to reserve the day’s work, our questions, and our active doubts for such beliefs as we can reasonably expect to amend. ‘Do not believe anything, but question only what is worth questioning.’

    Intellectual courage, intellectual honesty, and wise restraint are the moral qualities of the scientist.”

    This is a lot easier sad than done. I try to hold these ideas in my consciousness and focus on these attitudes as I engage in critical thought about my profession and about my vision for a better world.

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    1. Thank you for sharing about the inductive attitude, I see how it can keep one mentally agile as knowledge progresses. I have to add that book to my reading list!

      And thank you for for the support and helping me reflect and navigate this system. I have to balance propagating the system while also critiquing it and advocating for others struggling through it now and in the future.

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