A place called university
Updated: Sep 27, 2019
My nieces and nephews started attending universities. I am teaching many first-year, first-semester students. I am now contemplating what universities mean to many different people.
Teaching first-semesters is challenging. They haven't discovered basic features of the course website; they do not know what professors do when they are not teaching; they are not used to reading intensively; they are too used to memorizing facts but not at all to constructing new arguments. They are used to getting an A in papers; Most of them are really earnest, trying to figure out what they want to do in the future and what they are expected to do, especially getting a fancy job. What they do in college appears a lot more directly connected to their future. Many are stressed out.
Should they study something practical? Should they study something impractical? Should they specialize in something early on? I am in humanities. I tend to believe that a study that appears impractical allows you to obtain deeper-level understanding of issues and critical reflection on human society. Think critically of profit-seeking. Think critically of norms. Be aware of suffering that does not surface. Be aware of the invisible cost. Be fascinated by complexity of human motivations.
But yea, that's a professor talking (although, a taxi driver gave me a passionate speech on this point the other day, so it could be a driver talking). I remember I wanted to study something super practical, something that appeared giving me a head-start in the corporate world. (I thankfully met a parental intervention.) I have no rights to judge how students decide on their majors, obviously. The only hope I have is that they take at least one or two classes that will challenge them philosophically-be it literature, history, or anthropology-and I hope we teachers can capture that important opportunity to show beyond what's visible and what's profitable.
And I hope students will see the value in such an opportunity beyond the amount of readings and assignments! Study hard, but don't burn yourself out. Enjoy new silly and fun things, too!