7.30.2004

Academic Specialization continued...

Reader P.F. responds:

I still think college experience is unique. At this age, in this well-developed country, and being the fortunate people that we are, sources of knowledge are readily available at our finger tips and within the reach of our grasps (or our commuting distance). But how many people, if they don't feel intellectually stimulated, will go to local library and spend hours exploring arcane subjects (starting from introductory books that everyone can read!) after work? Yes, there will be a few, but the majority of them have their other priorities pile on top of out-of-work intellectual pursuit.

Compared with this scenario, for most of us, being a student in college is the most carefree time where you are not burdened with bills to pay, food to cook, family to take care of, utility bills to pay and a life to earn, not to mention the duty or privilege of a student is to learn.


This seems to be missing the drift of my argument. Nowhere am I claiming that your college years aren't a unique opportunity to learn. The question is of how you're going to use that opportunity.

Are you going to use it to learn lots of things that come straight out of books? Book knowledge won't change very much over a lifetime (unless it's cutting edge science), and college presents itself as no special advantage when in comes to learning this kind of knowledge. By your logic that the thing that makes college special is that it is a carefree time free from responsibilities, you would be just as well served during your college years if you were sent off to a desert island for four years with a bookcase full of books.

What does make college unique is your almost unlimited access to professors, the people who spend their entire lives advancing the frontiers of knowledge and thinking of new ways to use that knowledge. Yes, some of your professors can help you to understand your academics better. But I would argue that by college age, one should be moving towards the goal of teaching him or herself things. When you're out in the real world, in a job, no one sits by you telling you what the relevant skills to learn are and making sure you learn them. It's up to you to pick out and pick up on these things, so I would argue that having a teacher be intimately involved with your own learning process all the time when you are college aged is regressive and counterproductive. What is the use of professors then? Most professors, I would hope, are producing something of value to the world beyond their small academic field. Even an african-american literature professor can be an "expert" on black cultural trends and attitudes in contemporary America who may be interviewed on a TV talk show or cited in the newspaper. This kind of knowledge is not purely academic, but that doesn't make it any less valuable. Now, it is this, rather than book knowledge, that you get the unique opportunity to experience in college.

In one of you previous comments you wrote: "The main aim of college is to educate us in academics. After all, where else can you go for an education like that?" Actually, I think that high school is a pretty accurate answer to your question. I for one would hope that my college experience offers something my high school experience didn't.

1 comment:

P.F. said...

I guess I did digress a bit from the central question, which is "how are you going to use the opportunity college offers you?"

I agree with your following points: the uniqueness of college is the access to professors/scholars and the importance of your own initiative to learn.

However, there has to be a solid portion of college time that is devoted to pure/somewhat pure academics and specialization, and it should not be sacrificed for the sake of providing more "real-world problem solving" kind of education. Sometimes specialization/academics are windows that allow you to peek into your future career if you are interested in the field, even if you are among the minority of the college students who are interested in such fields.

I don't think it is a problem to take a class on Aristotle and only talks about Aristotle. If you want to learn something more than just his biography and works, then take "Aristotle and the modern philosophy" or "Aristotle and the history of mankind" or "Aristotle and Religion" or any other classes that can give you a broader scope of Aristotle and his place in the context of history and society, and they do exist. There are a range of classes you can take to your personal delight.

I am not claiming that college education should be completely dominated by "knowledge that doesn't necessarily make you a good citizen." For this reason, going to college is not comparable to going to an island for four years with a bookcase full of books. Like you say, the professors give you more than what mere reading of texts can give.

On learning initiative, I did say in my previous post that
"In school, it depends on the individuals to seek out problems to solve and challenges to take on academically and socially."
Of course we love self-initiatives. I am also not saying that you are being spoonfed in a college that teaches mostly academics (much like our undergraduate education that you are dissatified with right now). I don't think, as much as we would love to have, our professors now are intimately involved in our learning process. THAT, is high school, where you have the same class with the same teacher everyday, your homework has to be handed in and checked and attendance is more strict.

In college I find that you have to be the one to go to professors for questions, for in-depth discussion and for advice. And remember, in many public universities many professors don't even know the names of most of their students. This is where initiative comes in.

Professors aren't hermits, either. At least not most of them.

I think we agree on the same points for the most part, I just think it is not wrong for college to have specialized classes and professors that love to teach, and mighy only teach, what they do.



Hopes there's no typo, ugh.