I think it was Mark Twain who said the famous line, “don’t let school interfere with your education.” I actually do know it was Mark Twain who said that, because I just googled it. Google is a pretty good invention sometimes. But it has little to do with the rest of this article, which talks more about how Mark Twain’s statement applies now more than ever:
1. Standardized Statistical Slavery
GPAs, SATS, APs. These are all very necessary barometers instrumental in determining academic success. Colleges are increasingly being vocal about how this shouldn’t be the end all be all (Holy Cross, Middlebury, NYU, and Colorado College, just to name a few, are all now “test flexible”), but the problem subsists more on the student end; if our college acceptances and job offers hinge on our GPAs and the like, our definition of success has no choice but to narrow substantially.
We’re then not so much learning for the world as we are the specific demands of HISTORY 401; meaning that we’re too busy getting bogged down with the proper formatting of the bibliography (minus half a letter grade if messed up!) to think about how lessons learned from the Napoleonic Wars could be applied to collective housing reform. Totes thrilling stuff.
2. Subject Pigeonholing
Even the schools that don’t have Gen Ed. requirements have subject matter highly compartmentalized. The philosophy department will be on one side of campus, the chemistry department on the other. This is mostly a function of rational architectural planning, but the point here is that majoring in psychology, and focusing on just psychology, will probably make you specialized enough to get a job doing highly specific psychological research. A good thing technically, but when you finally earn enough money to start investing in shit you’ll have no idea how–because you took Theories of Personality 505 instead of Intro to Investments.
Specialization makes the economy run; something that could be traced all the way back to those Mesopotamia homies who realized that in order to keep the engine going, people needed to be maintaining different parts of the car. But in terms of learning, only focusing on one subject matter is like freakishly working out your bicep–just your bicep–and not giving a thought to any other muscle. This is awkward and severely unattractive.
In order to have a full understanding of the world around you, you need to walk in–or at least try on–the shoes of those around you. Schools segregate subjects into departments because it makes sense from an organizational standpoint. But it’s up to us to stress convergence.
3. Academia As An Institution
I feel like the poster child for academia is a balding white dude with wisps of grey hair that each carry their own esoteric opinion on the merits of game theory in today’s international political economy. While progressive articles on the internet (and the combo of stunted backlash/humor that inevitably follows any societal progress) indicates that this is changing, academia is definitely well absorbed in its own norms and practices–norms and practices that aren’t exactly shared by 95% of the jobs out there.
Point being, we’re learning all of our information from people who get paid to read books, and travel the world on debatably bullshit grants from the government. To echo a popular college sentiment from the past few years, “this isn’t real life.” Immersing yourself further inside the bubble means you’ll just have worse lung capacity for the toxins that await you.
4. The Ambition Binge
Get into the the best school possible, “do well” at that school, get an internship that you could talk about over wine and cheese, tell everyone how “valuable an experience” it was (even though you only applied because it seemed like that’s what everyone else was doing), attend the various recruiting sessions for a field you’re not necessarily interested in, but are moving towards because it’s relevant to internship you just did, get an interview, ask them 2-4 questions at the end of the interview, appear well adjusted, sign the offer letter, answer superficial questions at graduationey events and dinner parties, work at a job you’re not sure you actually like, make enough money to have family photos where you all wear sweaters, send your kid to private school, watch him graduate from your alma mater with a similar offer in hand. Success, allegedly.