Slightly Off Topic: A Reflection on School, Learning, and Having Dreams
So, the weekend has arrived at last. In some ways, it had been another long week for me. I delivered by big American Lit presentation on Tuesday, breathed a sigh of relief, and promptly dedicated the afternoon to relaxation and recovery, which included a bit of reading and writing a post about Sherlock Holmes. I planned to get back to homework that night, but then a new friend came by my room wanting to hang out. I have such a miniscule social life that this type of thing doesn’t happen to me often. So, of course, I agreed, and we had a lot of fun. My calculus homework got pushed back to the next morning.
The next morning, I overslept and my homework time vanished. So as I sat listening to that day’s Calculus lecture, I began to feel overwhelmed all over again. “I’m like 4 sections behind on homework!” I suddenly realized. “How am I supposed to learn this when I haven’t spent enough time studying the stuff this is building on?” So I assigned every minute of spare time before the calculus quiz on Friday to homework, and did my best on the quiz, but after that I was so worn out I was beyond the point of caring how I might have done on it.
And now it’s the weekend again
And I find myself reflecting on how much all this schoolwork drains me. Today I feel like a completely different person from the one who was single-mindly focused on getting things done. Today I find my love of learning returning. I’m starting to find the idea of studying my databases textbook attractive even though I know I could get an “A” in the class without doing so.
And that makes me wish that every day could be like this one. Because I have time I have the ability to dictate my own schedule. I can take a break when I need it. I can focus on the classes or topics that interest me most or I can focus on the pieces that are stumbling blocks in my ability to learn the rest of the material.
I can’t help but wonder how my life would be different
If my classes were run such a way as to allow the students to set their own pace.
If in my literature class I could opt out of rereading The Scarlet Letter in favor of a book that I’m interested in. I could still come to class and discuss The Scarlet Letter with the best of them (because I still remember it very clearly). If I could be released from the busywork that comes from filling out sheets or writing notes to prove that I had read the section and thought about it, not just in that class, but in every class, how much would my enjoyment be increased?
If in my Calculus class we could select our own practice problems from a list of teacher suggestions, we could all spend more time on the concepts we find difficult and less time on those that we already understand. The quizzes would stand as a warning to all those who would be tempted to slack off and giving proof that the students had learned the material they had been assigned.
I’ve already established that I’m kind of a dreamer
But, in their early twenties, who wasn’t a bit of a dreamer? I imagine a world where the love of learning is encouraged more than getting perfect grades. I imagine a world where people will seek out books like Great Expectations because they are interested in reading it and not because they are required to understand what it is about for a class.
As I write this blog, I’ve paid attention to the search terms people use to find me, and when I see searches like “beloved toni morrison themes” or “great expectations summarize the plot”, it makes me a little sad. I could be wrong, but when I see these I get an image of a high school or college student looking for a way to write their essays for class without doing the work.
I’m reminded of a meeting of Sigma Tau Delta that I went to last year. (Sigma Tau Delta is an English and Writing honor society.) We were throwing around some ideas of fun things we might do as a club, and someone (the advisor, I think) suggested the formation of a book club. Now, I was in a room full of people who love to read, people who chose to study English and work with it for the rest of their lives. Some are passionate about writing. Some want to work in publishing and bring new books to the world. Some want to teach kids the same love of reading that they found as children.
And one by one, these students rejected the idea of joining a book club because they are so busy with their classes that they never have time to read anything for fun anymore. One by one they said variations of “I wish I could”. Or they admitted that they’d overexerted themselves for various classes to the point where it where it wouldn’t be fun for them to read anything for a long time.
That’s not the way that things should be. So I freely grant that my imaginings are rough. I grant that not all students are like me, and I realize that the ideas I laid out above might not work in a practical setting without a great deal of tweaking. But I maintain that nothing ever changes if we are not allowed to dream of something better.