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2012 Spring Issue 1 (April 6, 2012)

Community: Why studying is better at Carleton

April 6, 2012
By Michael Goodgame

Studying in high school was harder than it is here at Carleton.  That’s right.  I said it.

Before you dust off the pitchforks and berate me in a fit of pride over how hard the work is here, hear me out and read closely: I said that the studying is easier now, not the material.  Surely, the material is more advanced and therefore more difficult.  This much is clear and always will be.

But this has nothing to do with how hard the studying is. When I think about the difficulty level of actually getting down and doing work – not the work itself, but the process of reaching the destination of the “homework” mindset – I think of the crucial impediment to this state of “flow” necessary to the production of high quality work.  This obstacle, of course, is procrastination. 
Everyone knows and loves (hates) procrastination. We hear about it all the time, we deal with it every day, and it’s the reason that we’re not as industrious as we think we should or could be.  Particularly now, it seems, in spring term where distractions abound and temptations to go frolic in the sun are too often more exciting than dull piles of textbook chapters, procrastination takes a key role in all of our lives. 

Despite all of this, I make the case that the state of “flow” – the mental place consumed by ultimate concentration, focus, and output – comes by quicker and with more ease at a place like Carleton. Why?  The answer is both obvious and a little convoluted: because everyone’s doing it.

In high school, I would be at the assembly line for hours on end.  Math, history, physics, lunch, English, PE, biology, practice, then back home.  Days would pass in a whirlwind of activity, and before I knew it I would be back at my desk by myself staring at a mound of undone reading, problem sets, and papers waiting for me to act.  A similar thing happens here, but with one key difference: I’m not alone.

At home, it was just me and the homework.  As trite as it sounds, there was nothing there to inspire me – nothing to get me moving.  At Carleton, I have something around 2000 reasons to be inspired to act, and they’re all around me, interacting with me and forcing me to do what I need to do.  I’m speaking, of course, about you.

You, the Carleton community, inhibit the fruitless homework style of high school. Left to my own devices there, I would literally procrastinate the day away and be forced to get my work done in the few hours of morning before my classes.  Here, the energy and, more importantly, the atmosphere, scolds that kind of behavior. 

Nearly any time I need to be doing work, other people are also doing work.  Both friends of mine and people I’ve never seen before gather at the library or in nooks across campus to study, and just seeing this encourages me to work to my fullest.  When I am tempted to shy away from what I need to do and I start wandering around, I always end up seeing other people working.  This forms an odd sort of social pressure, making me question my actions and forcing me to sit
back down and slog through the next reading.

This is, I believe, partly what makes great colleges great.  There is a nearly tangible air of productivity – homework is on everyone’s mind.  Homework gets done, weirdly, simply because everyone’s doing it and everyone cares. 

Of course, this kind of social pressure can result in bad as well as good, and conforming to the group never feels “right” for some reason.  (Maybe because we’re all secretly hipsters).  In any case, despite what has happened in the past with social conformity – e.g. genocide – I am confident that it can be manipulated and used for everyone’s benefit. 

This also poses an interesting psychological question: is Carleton a great school because of all the reasons we learned about on our prospy visits here, or is it a great school simply because the student body forces itself to be so?

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