Don’t Let College Get in the Way of My Education

We often hear this phrase in our lives, at least in mine. Some people use it as an excuse to skip class or even drop out of school. That’s what I used it for last semester (I was so messed up last semester but not any more) when I skipped one class to study for another. Now that I realized how stupid that action was, it will never happen to me again.  But seriously speaking, what this phrase personally means to me now is that, I have come to college to study, but college does not equal my study (just like a party does not equal my country, but that’s another story). Learning is for my own sake and what I learn from college is all about what I make of it, not what I’m taught even by some world-class professors.

Major requirements can help explain this. Let’s say I want to learn Political Science, and I’ve taken a class in the field. And now I am thinking of majoring or concentrating in PoliSci just because I want people and myself to know that I am a qualified PoliSci major or minor. But the cost of having this two words appearing on my transcript is that I have to take 10 more inflexibly mandatory classes in addition to the Psychology and Economics major classes that I have to take right now, which would be really intimidating to think about. But if I look at it from another perspective: I came to college to learn, I came here for knowledge, not a degree. So long as I have taken the only classes that interest me in PoliSci, does it even matter whether the degree says I am a PoliSci major? Not necessarily. Because knowledge enters me, and I internalize it, then it will stay within me, become part of me. And when I explore the world, I will not be carrying a piece of paper wherever I go, I will be taking myself, my brain, and my knowledge.

Another example is the struggle for higher GPA. Would I stay in a boring class and get an easy A or would I venture in a hard but interesting class where it is extremely hard to do better than other students and get an A? That’s my tradeoff in Professor Gulati’s Principles of Economics class. By the end of last semester, which seems not at all far from now, I was lucky enough to get into Gulati’s class, but at the same time I was worried because I heard his class was very hard. At least that was what I was told. But now that I have had five weeks of classes with him, I think the comment could be interpreted as: the class itself is not hard at all, but getting an A is. That’s because he is such a good professor that everyone in his classes has strained all of our brain cells and potential to comprehend the material, which was made surprisingly easy with his demonstration. I learned a lot from him. He is passionate, straight forward, provocative, professional (which I like the most) and charismatic. To answer the question I posed at the beginning of the paragraph: I would rather be in his class and get a B, than be in any other professor’s class and have a higher chance to do well.

This phrase “Don’t let college get in the way of education” also applied to professors’ point of view.

Last Monday morning, one of the most unforgettable experience happened to me in my first year Frontiers of Science class. The point here is that, the entire half of the freshman class share the same experience, and the world was our witness.

Here are some accounts on what happened: Columbia, Wall Street Journal, TIME. All of them have more or less distorted the actual facts, my favorite one is from YaleDailyNews: Columbia Professor Strips for Science, because that is my opinion.

Some people say that he took off his clothes just to attract students’ attention, but I can’t agree less. I was in the front row when the whole scenario took place. And when you experienced his charisma from that point of view, you wouldn’t think his purpose was simple as that. Quantum physics was the subject of that class. As a lecturer he made the class unexpectedly interesting and the material approachable. His intelligence, talents, passions and charisma all signify that he is no simple human being. Would someone like him take their clothes off just to attract attention? He had a point to make. He was bold enough to show his point in an unconventional way. Need say more? For those of you who think differently from me, you would be right that he simply wanted attention if his lecture after the “introduction” was monotonous and tedious. But fortunately that wasn’t the case. He kept my attention with him the whole time, even though I have hated physics my whole life.

So for professors in general, don’t let college get in the way of your education. Teach however you want as long as you can make sure the students learned a lot and the memory of the class would take them a long time to forget. The purpose of education for educators is to imprint knowledge, whereas for students is to internalize it. I really appreciate Professor Hughes for letting me know how important courage is, and that life is short, why so serious?


yx@Feb 22, 2013


About Olivia Xiang

Recruiting Director for Symposium China 2014
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