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Staying afloat

October 28, 2013 at 2:08 am

I recently wrote a really all-over-the-place paper arguing that one of the most important purposes of education is to enable students to express themselves, in written and spoken words, so that they can represent their viewpoints and interests and have “public identities”. I found the situation funny because I wasn’t expressing myself clearly in the paper arguing the importance of doing so, but it was interesting to think about how without formal education, no one would take anything I wrote seriously and I’d be a nobody voice in public because a) improper grammar gives educated readers a headache, b) it’d take too much effort to figure out what I meant, or c) some other reason I haven’t thought of yet.

In my educational studies class, we’ve been talking a lot about standardized tests and the need for accountability in the public school system, and wouldn’t you know it, our class has found that there simply isn’t an easy answer as to how to ensure people are getting a good education. Even here, some of the most interesting people I know don’t have such high grades because if they find something that interests them, they chase that for a while, or they actually stop to have real conversations with people, until they realize it’s 2AM some night and they haven’t finished their graded work. Tests don’t measure true intellectual curiosity and passion. There are people on the Dean’s List here (GPAs in the top 10% of their classes, but don’t quote me on that) who dismiss their achievement by saying they took easy classes, which may well be true, but some prioritize their schoolwork above everything else. What’s the right balance between self-disciplining yourself to stick to the given regimen of class material and freeing yourself to follow other, possibly more tangential interests? Asking myself what makes me happy doesn’t seem to help, since reading unassigned chapters in my psychology textbook makes me happy, as does taking Chem exams when (and only when) I am well prepared for them. It’s fun to do things when you’ve worked to get good at them. Is it better to do things that come naturally to you (whether it be reading something that interests you or lower quality forms of procrastination) or is it better to be a good sheep and do your homework?

A while ago, I read last year’s (I believe) MIT commencement speech which described the undergraduate experience as jumping through a lot of elaborate hoops to gain that degree, and the speaker, the founder of Dropbox, was explaining how the real work begins after commencement. The freshly bachelor’s degree-endowed students now had the skills to take on anything, but the real world was where they would find their passions--find their ‘tennis ball’ aspiration, the one that it wouldn’t feel like work to chase because you wanted it so badly (if you were a dog).

Here, I feel like I’m trying to find my tennis ball and jumping through a bunch of hoops at the same time. How do I know it might be too much for me? A few hours ago, I was carving pumpkins to decorate the dining halls for Halloween, something that should by all rights have been fun. I was even getting paid $11/hour to do it, as a part of my dining hall job. It was sad that all I could think about was how over the coming I had another Ed Studies paper to write, a Psych midterm, a Chem take-home quiz, etc, etc to prepare for, and pumpkin carving couldn’t be fun for me while I was worrying about that.

**Disclaimer: I know, I’m supposed to make you want to come to Carleton by reading my blog. I promise that you’ll only be as busy as you want to be if you come here--you won’t be able to do everything you want to and keep up in your classes, that’s for sure. You experiment to find a balance that works for you.

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