20 April 2010

Day 24: My Freshman Year

My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Students by Rebekah Nathan (pseudonym).  ISBN: 9780801443978.

I admire that a professor was willing to go back to college.  I kind of wonder why she chose to return to her own campus.  She was trying to better understand her students, but I don't think experiences vary that much from large state institute to large state institute.  Also, wouldn't it be better to observe student behavior is a setting that you're completely unfamiliar with so that you also experience the uncertainty of being in a new place?

She also wipes out a lot of details about which university she attended and taught at.  However, I think there are probably enough clues to determine who she is if someone really wanted to.  In fact, a quick search of the pseudonym pulled up a Wikipedia page for her.  I will link to it for your convenience.  Apparently she just gave one two many clues, such as telling people there were mountains nearby, how long she had been teaching, etc.  It would have been fun trying to piece all that information together if someone else hadn't done it first.

For me the most striking thing I noticed about this book was the differences between my education at a small liberal arts school and that of the state schools.  The dorm situation at Antioch College was less than stellar, but because most of us were from out of state we all typically lived in the dorms.  Most of us ate in the cafeteria because it was the most convenient.  These were all things that seemed to be lacking in the state universities.  Also at Antioch, we had to share bathrooms and depending on the dorm, we did use the commons spaces for community gathering.

Nathan also mentioned the shift from living in condensed housing to suite living, where four rooms share a bathroom, and apparently at some universities a kitchen, laundry facilities, and a living room area.  And we wonder why college education has skyrocketed?  I know there are other reasons, but students should understand that because education is now a business, whether right or wrong, that business will cater to the element that will "earn" them the most money. That means people who would be okay with living in high density living units, who don't need in-house laundry units and kitchens (as nice as they are), are still paying for them, because someone has to pay for the costs of the renovations and the fact that more buildings are necessary to house fewer students.

I'm not saying that universities shouldn't try to cater to students at all: renovations are a necessary part of building maintenance, but the extras aren't necessary and I'm not sure why students even want them.  There are now dormitories where cable and HBO are standard. These are nothing more than distractions, not only from academics but also from building community and learning to relate to people from different cultures and backgrounds. 

Think about it, if you aren't forced to share living space with someone from a different culture or background as you, how likely are you to actually interact with them?  That's what college used to be about.  Now it seems that we go to college for four, sometimes five, years to reinforce our beliefs rather than expand them.  Oh good, I get to learn more about what I already know, awesome, can I have my piece of paper now?  This isn't to say there aren't any problems with liberal education, but I do think there's typically more freedom to really explore interests.   I just think that students, alumni, and parents need to be clear about what they really want from universities.  We want a valuable education, not a party central padded with amenities and football games.  The extras might be nice, but they shouldn't be the focus of university life, and they may actually be detrimental to process of higher education.

1 comment:

  1. Great entry, When I went off to college I was given the advice (an old saw, but perhaps it needs to be revived), "Don't let college interfere with your education."
    Today's colleges are really guilty of such interference, as you have so well expressed. Too bad there aren't more Antiochs. It's good that Antioch will be coming back to life next year, so all hope is not lost.


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