During winter break, my father dragged me along to a dinner with some of his old high school and college buddies. At a table with three old men and their patient wives, I sat listening to their inebriated chatter. Over table talk they reminisced about college – how bad the food was, some of the weirder students, the notoriously difficult teachers. Their talk was really not all that different from what one might hear on a given day in the Prentiss dining hall. But then my father said something that struck me as strange: he said that even during a period when students can truly devote themselves to learning and improving, he was in such a hurry to get out of college and into the “real world” that he missed out on the full value of experiencing college’s liberated atmosphere.
While I am quite capable of truly living it up, my father’s experience rings true for me about 80 percent of the time. When it comes down to it, college is actually a time to totally dedicate ourselves to personal growth and knowledge. What could be better than four years of self-discovery and learning about any subject imaginable?
Thinking back to the third grade and learning about magnets, I don’t think I had ever experienced such massive wonder and amazement. Back then I “loved learning” in the honest way that college admissions officers say can’t be reflected in a quantitative GPA. But at some point along the road – I suspect in high school – I started going through the motions instead of actually feeling anything. High school zombies are no joke; thinking back, I was pretty dead inside. Of course it was hard to love learning back then when we were mindlessly jumping through hoops: we need certain grades to get into a certain colleges to get a certain jobs in the future so we can live with a certain degree of happiness.
The goal of learning moved away from discovering the joy of knowledge and from self-betterment to memorization and intense review before a test for the sake of a good grade. I don’t mean to generalize that everyone fits into this sort of motivational deficit, but to put things into perspective: consider the last time you skipped a reading or simply spaced out during class. Maybe you did it because you were swamped with other classes, maybe you hate the class and are only taking it for distribution or you’re just an insane slacker like me – you were just too lazy and apathetic to do the work.
If you can relate to the last point in any way, you’ve fallen into what I call academic apathy. I’ve gotten so used to seeing my education as a means to an end – getting a job in the “real world” – and grades as a measure of worth and ability (rather than a letter expressing how well I did on assessments) that it has become difficult to pursue learning for its own sake.
There is no simple fix once we acknowledge that we’ve lost the intellectual ‘spark’ of childhood – it is obviously hard to grow out of a mindset you spent all of high school developing. That being said, by skipping the readings you’re depriving yourself even further of any content that might jolt you out of your indifference. To me, the only solution is to be open to new ideas and to take the time to expose yourself to different passions in order to remind ourselves of what we lost in pursuing a 4.0 and 2400. You only college once – who knows the next time you’ll have the opportunity to read obscure books with other intelligent people.