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2012 Spring Issue 8 (May 25, 2012)

What Have I Learned Here?

May 25, 2012
By Michael Goodgame

At the end of the year, I like to think about what I’ve learned.  After all, I am a student by profession – I chose to go to college, and this is what I do.  I am expected to learn, and I like to consider what I’ve come away with each year.

When I think of the year academically, I am forced to think of Arabic.  A third of my classes were in Arabic.  That’s a lot.  Surely I have learned a ton, but more and more I am reminded about how far I’ll have to go before I can call myself fluent in such an impossibly different language.  Still, the small skyscraper of flashcards on my desk reminds me that I’ve committed a lot to that class.

What else?  I’ve taken my fair share of what Carleton might call writing-intensives, mainly in the Political Science department.  The amount of information I actually learned in the two political science classes I took is questionable – I like to think of the classes as ways to change my outlook on the state of affairs in the world in general.  Political philosophy did this in theory, and comparative political regimes applied it to reality to some extent. 

Besides that, I’ve had a smattering of economics, psychology, and statistics – all related subjects that require a student to tune his brain to look through a different lens.  In true liberal arts fashion, these classes have allowed my mind to understand the different but necessarily related ways in which different disciplines explain human interaction.

At the very end of the year – or, for that matter, six months from now – I am most likely not going to remember where deadweight loss can be found on a graph, what exactly is included in the theory of multiple intelligences, or how to calculate a test statistic.  Introductory classes, I am convinced, are not for gleaning information.  They are for learning and evaluating paradigms of thinking.  Students are left with the decision: does this train of thought make sense to me?  Do I think it matters?  Am I good at it?

This, all else equal, is how majors and, eventually, careers, are chosen.  It’s hard to think about what classes to take without considering how they might matter – how they might eventually help in some way with what we call Real Life.

But I’m not writing to encourage this.  In fact, I’m saying that it happens too often. 

When I ask myself when it is that I learn and grow as a human being, I find myself thinking not of times when I carefully measured results and possible outcomes, but of times when I took a risk or did something out of character.  The most satisfying moments come when I turn off my brain’s executive functioning and let my mind do what it knows is right.  These are the times that I learn, because these are the times that I step outside of my comfort zone and really think, rather than drilling myself with memorization and formulaic “learning.”

Training myself out of being someone who feels as though he has to have his life planned out has been – and is – difficult.  But building the confidence to attack what I do not knowing what may come of it – that’s what will get me where I want to go, and I am more than willing to try.

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