Tag Archives: classes

Inhibited

Dim fluorescent lights flicker over our half-empty classroom with pale windowless walls on all sides. It’s creative writing class, and students scribble all around me, writing impromptu stories. After the exercise, those that dare are invited to read their mini-tales aloud. I dare, take a breath, and plow ahead.

It’s a silly, crazy type of story about someone’s lost shirt, inspired by the stories I used to amuse my family with about themselves blown all out of proportion. Like most of my goofy stories, telling it right involves a bit of yelling. My classmates don’t know what to think. When I finish, there’s dead silence. To everyone’s relief we move on, and I’m left to consider my sin of uninhibited goofiness.

Over time, I learned to hide my freshman self under a protective shell. I became a chameleon, changing colors to match my surroundings, sometimes hoping someone would come up and talk to me, sometimes hoping I’d be left alone. And though I’ve learned a lot about writing through college, becoming a chameleon hurt my writing ability. Instead of taking joy in the act of writing itself I became preoccupied with what readers will think. A writer can’t be this way.

Good writers let go. They give up fear and inhibition and throw caution to the wind. They write their heart, be it goofy or weird or sweet or aching. They keep writing and worry about the audience later, if ever. This is how something meaningful is made.

justbleed
When I wrote my first NaNoWriMo novel, I lived the story through my characters. I laughed and cried with them, spoke their words, felt everything. My heart was in that story and it’s worth reading. However, my subsequent attempts at noveling are sad imitations of good stories. I was busy with college at the time and just “made stuff up,” never really getting in touch with my characters. This just doesn’t cut it—good writing is heartfelt.

Don’t be afraid to put your heart in your writing, and shine!

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Not Made for a Classroom

“We’ll create this project for an imaginary client.”797266

“Here are the instructions, now get started on your film.”

“Imagine the client wants this type of design. Think about the audience, and start researching.”

As a senior Communication major, I’m starting to notice a pattern in my class projects: that is, a glaring absence of an actual client and real world experience. There are reasons for this absence, and perhaps the most significant is America’s widespread mindset that education is synonymous with a classroom setting. This is strange—and inaccurate—and tends to result in practice-based subjects getting the short end of the stick.

My major is attempting to straddle the line between practical professional development (which you learn only by doing) and academic rigor (which isn’t related to practical skill—for example, think of these master writers and filmmakers who didn’t learn their craft in college). In my opinion, a four year COM major should be made up of at least two years of legitimate real-world on-the-job high-stakes achievement—maybe like trade school—as well as the option of a media theory course. In order to add academic rigor, COM majors should pick a separate subject to specialize in (bio, psych, physics, sociology, history, tech, etc.) so that they’ll have a pool of knowledge to draw from when creating media.

We’re trying to train communicators, right? Is being able to explore within a sheltered environment for four years really a beneficial experience, disconnected from real clients and all the associated challenges of working with them? When do you learn how to deal with humanity—the demanding client, the client of prolonged silences, the client who can’t make up their mind? Many communicators are freelancers. These are legitimate concerns.

On the other hand, some subjects do seem to fit right into the classroom environment. In my personal case, I’m only motivated to learn mathematics while in a classroom setting. However, when I think about this I start to wonder . . . I know a few students who take joy in learning math on their own, and they hardly get anything valuable from these classes. Is it possible that classrooms are made specifically for those who are not already accomplished in the subject area?

A classroom is an academic arena. It’s a place for ideas and arguments to grow as they encounter one another, a place separate and distinct from the outside world. Sometimes it’s a padded starting ground for those who are beginning to learn their craft-based professions, but no matter your initial writing ability or your filmmaking ability (graphic design is a bit of another story in my opinion), the classroom will not be an ideal skill-honing environment. In fact, I don’t think people with professional communication aspirations go to college to learn their trade (at least I hope not…), but rather to get a broader base of knowledge, new experiences, a respected credential, and practice navigating the world as an adult.

Repeat After Me: A Science Education

I watch the clock while eating a banana in the Student Center. It’s my first semester in college, and 1pm is approaching way too fast. I swallow a last bite, pack my stuff, and join the mass migration of college students heading to afternoon classes. My stop is 2144. Biology lab.

Today we’re investigating the fat content of different foods. We have brown paper towels and selected bits of edibles—cauliflower, yogurt, cheese, banana. My stomach grumbles, having not finished lunch, but I don’t dare eat anything in the lab. We watch as the professor shows us how to smear food across the paper and look for the resulting translucency that signifies fat content. My team goes to work smearing food and recording our findings. Unfortunately, our records don’t match the “correct” results on the professor’s answer key. We lose points for reporting deviant observations. Hastily we scribble out our findings, and instead write down the textbook answers our instructor provides. Our grades restored, we hand in the report.

This is an extreme example of a pattern I’ve noticed in all my introductory natural science classes, which are structured in a way that encourages students to memorize facts and vocabulary but discourages actual exploration. In other words, students are taught what has been discovered through science rather than the process of science itself. In biology lab, my team was punished for our unexpected yet honest results, and then rewarded for our textbook answers. Contrary to the spirit of science, we were taught conformity rather than curiosity.

I understand that an education in established scientific knowledge is important. Without it, how would students know where to push the boundaries? But this sole focus on known facts can destroy the natural appeal of learning for me.

Students should be allowed to explore. Even when rediscovering the most basic of facts, at least students will gain a sense of accomplishment and experience to associate with the new knowledge. In non-science classes, I’ve had professors provide suggestions about the “right” way to do things (about the scope of a project, about tricky yet labor-saving software), but they allowed me to go about exploring on my own. Sooner or later, I came around to seeing things their way, but it happened in a natural process that made me feel as if I was discovering the knowledge on my own. I worked through the problems, devoted more brainpower to the task, and retain this hard-won knowledge better than I would a sterile, impersonal fact.

Science is about pushing the boundaries, questioning the status quo, and systematically exploring the unknown. Science classes—especially introductory ones—should reflect that.

An Education to Remember

I’ve taken twenty college courses in the past three years. Like most college students, I’ve forgotten the majority of the material I “learned” during these courses . . . and what good is a forgotten education?

Google’s first definition of education is “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.” Ouch—that sounds like something I’d want to forget. Google’s second definition is “an enlightening experience.”

Enlightening experiences are memorable. Sometimes they occur in a college classroom, but rarely when the student feels as if he or she is being force-fed information that is key to passing a test and nothing more.

The few classes I’ve had that were truly and consistently memorable had enlightening experiences at every turn. They made me feel as if I was discovering the material on my own. These classes involved higher concentrations of self-directed learning, in the form of original research or individual exploration.

Though I forget facts and dates and names, I remember the thrill of discovery. Very few classes have influenced my behavior after the final grade is in; those few made me care about the subject more than the grade. Those few successfully transmitted enthusiasm from teacher to student, and fostered a personal interest that will live beyond the classroom.

Have I truly forgotten my education? I prefer to think that I only retain the good stuff.

What do Grades Really Measure?

Everyone knows that getting high grades is getting good grades. A high grade is supposed to show that you really understand the material in an academic course. It’s supposed to reflect your intelligence, or your talent, or both.

These are not what grades really measure. Talent and intelligence and understanding all help in getting good grades, to be sure—but they’re not fully necessary.

Academic grades measure dedication. Without dedication—the will to go to class, stay on top of assignments, and struggle through the challenges—Einstein would fail at physics.

I’m finishing a tough course right now. Calculus II, and we’re doing infinite series, which are perplexing to me. I have little talent nor mathematical intelligence (I only imitate math, I don’t create), and I often feel like a Chinese Room when it comes to math problems. I would be doomed if grades didn’t reflect dedication.

I am dedicated. Up until recently, I wondered whether willpower could make up for lack of talent and interest. It can—to an extent. And I wondered whether I could succeed by willpower alone in a subject that doesn’t come naturally to me, or whether I’m bound by fate and genetics to do what I’m good at and interested in.

This weekend, I accidentally convinced myself that there’s no substitute for passion. I had two things on my mind: Tuesday’s math test, and a video for film history that was due a week later. What did I do? I spent 17 hours editing video, and 3 hours struggling with math.

The difference between these two activities was passion. When you’re passionate about something and actually want to do it, you end up giving it more of yourself—even your spare time. And putting in all those hours is what it takes to become a master. So I don’t think I could ever be that successful in a subject I’m not passionate about or talented in. The fire just isn’t there.

A lot of college and growing up seems to be about finding the place you fit in the world—that little niche where you’re talented, passionate, and better than most other people at doing what you do. A grade can help you find out what you’re good at. We’re all naturally dedicated to something or other, and when you find what you’re interested in, you tend to notice a change of focus—away from trying to motivate yourself just to do the homework, and more towards building a beautiful final product, be it a movie, a program, or a thoughtful new idea.