Monday, November 8, 2010
Our Academic System: A Pretty Okay Joke
The difference between the people that will get the job at the interview and become successful in life will be someone intelligent with appropriate experience. When we chose committee members for our club here at UCB, we took people who interviewed well. The resumes didn't really help and I'll tell you why- they were awful. Some went back to their sixth grade class presidency. I do not care that you were popular in sixth grade and you wasted your time on writing a speech once so that your friends could think you were important. I care if you are going to be good talking to kids about UC Berkeley now or whether your going to be good at whatever your actual specific job is going to be. Similarly, I feel like I wouldn't care what school someone went to- only if they are or are not capable of doing the job. I would want to see previous things they did and worked on and check their references. UC Berkeley is one giant reference that says "hey, pick this guy- he paid for this degree and passed classes here! It probably wasn't too hard, but he's a hard worker- right?"
Okay, so let's look at the system we have going on right now. I am taking one of my courses solely because it's a requirement. There is no way to get around it, I can not possibly avoid taking this class. It is by far the most inane class I have ever taken. I only have three more weeks of class and I can say that the History of Ancient Philosophy has only damaged my academic career. I hate taking easy classes. I also hate taking classes that are about stupid topics. Socrates and Plato are fun to read, but honestly- all I learned in this class was that Plato was a communist who basically thought that Brave New World was a pretty sweet idea, minus the drugs and sex (Which honestly, just sounds extremely boring and unpleasant to me), that Socrates probably didn't exist and that they were both probably pedophiles (the greeks were pretty into that, and there's an odd reference about Socrates finding a pretty boy in one of the Platonic dialogues).
Anyways, why would a system force us to take certain classes? The only reason I can think of is to discourage us from actually taking that major or pursuing that interest. Political Science 4 was so stupid that I literally couldn't stand attending the discussions because the Grad Student didn't understand my interpretation of the Grand Inquisitor. Luckily for him, the professor did an outstanding job of explaining the exact interpretation the next day in lecture. Nevertheless, the class was so easy that lectures which happened after I did the reading were a waste of my time (thanks to the lovely We the People program- http://www.civiced.org/index.php?page=wtp_introduction we should give these guys MORE money).
It would be okay if I could take it pass/fail for fun. But that was not the case. To be a political science major, it had to be a letter grade. And when the time came to choose between a B(participation was 20% and I never went to class) and not being a poli-sci major, I switched majors to philosophy (because I hated the class). The breadth requirement stopped me from majoring in a subject I loved because it made me think that everyone in the classes would be idiots forever (it probably might not have been).
Next let's look at the dreaded mandatory discussion section. I can see why this might be useful in ensuring that we are grasping the material and helping those who need help. But honestly, there are office hours and if I don't understand, I would just fail- so I'm clearly going to go ask for help if I need it- why make it mandatory? Please don't hold my hand through education. I am nineteen years old and I have been learning for nineteen years. Not surprisingly, I know how to learn things. I can't not learn. I do it every day. I learn people's names, I learn how to put back together poorly-constructed pens when they break, I learn how to cook something on the internet right before I do it, and when I'm working I learn math and how to use it practically as I try to make a shot glass. I learn legal things when I file for business permits and I do things better than ever. Starting a business will be my MBA. I feel like this is the case for most people. So why not jsut offer an incentive instead of creating a competition? Our system is geared to be a rat race instead of a way to learn and grow.
But why would we have breadth requirements in college? Do you honestly think half a year of learning anything is going to stick? I asked my roommate who was one point short of an A+ in astronomy one year ago a basic question and he couldn't remember. Sure, he remembers some other stuff- but this diminished so quickly it definitely wasn't worth studying for three exams and doing five labs. He just remembered fun facts that I knew before I ever took astronomy from watching the Magic School Bus and playing the computer game where they go into space. It's a half-assed attempt to keep us well-rounded. And if it's not, then what? A chance to get us into something why might not ever have known we loved? Like I'm seriously going to change my plans instantly? If I thought I might possibly change careers or majors, I would be trying out different classes anyways.
I think what we need instead of giving billions and billions of dollars to a school with so much red-tape and bureaucracy that we can't even learn anything- we should just buy every person a laptop and provide free high-speed internet to all of America (probably macs, so the stupid people couldn't break them). Then, if they want to do a job, they can just Google it. I learn how to do things as I do them. I'm currently starting a business, pitching a sitcom and writing philosophical exegeses on Sartre on this blog and it's all for fun.
The best course I have so far is Logic- all I do is the homework once a week and I understand it very well. The only problem is that I went into my midterm without knowing it was a midterm and with no sleep- so I didn't answer two thirds of a question and missed a lot of points- like an idiot. That's how I learned that I should try to go to lecture every once in a while! See- more learning done without explication.
But honestly- I would go to lectures if I didn't have to waste my time doing all this stupid homework for a class I never wanted to take. Seriously. I am getting a 6000 dollar opportunity to listen to some of the most intelligent people lecture and teach me something. Why would I need an incentive to do that? I saw Bill Clinton speak for free! UC Berkeley is a fantastic school and I love it. But why do we let unions bully us into paying tenured workers full salary for the rest of their retirement? And then why do we have an easily exploitable system that allows them to hike up their salary in the last year so that we can pay them more than they technically deserve? Honestly. It's bullshit. I don't blame them for exploiting a broken system- I mean professors actually deserve to be paid as much as they can get. That's capitalism and it's beautiful. But we need to reach a balance. That is a bad system for paying professors. It's just not good. And I know it's a lot of work to get tenure, but they're already getting paid that whole time they're working. So why not, instead of paying ridiculously high tenure so that they can be rich when they retire, we just pay them higher salaries so they can be rich while they have to go through the agonizing pain of working. Then they can save money for retirement or rely on their universal healthcare and improved medicare now that Obama agreed to pay for it.
Not surprisingly, (based on what I hear from Benjamin) private schools seem better than public schools because they don't coddle you and they don't try to make you fail- as most Berkeley students would tell you they try to do here- the only problem is that private schools charge more money. This is because they exist to make money and the best way to do this is to produce students that will go make money and donate back to them later. And that's honestly the only reason UC Berkeley has money. I got 6000 dollars in financial aid per semester. How much did my sister at UCSB get? Not a lot. About 1/6 as much as me, to be exact (get it!?). But that says something when the difference between two public schools financial aid is different by that much for two students in literally the same economic situation (a dependent with the same parents and same income). Seriously, Harvard can't even spend the income they receive from the interest on their bank account. I think that's a fact. I don't know. Look it up, you're on the internet.