Friday, 13 November 2009

Things I Hate About the Education System

1. University is really not supposed to be about getting a job, yet that's what it's turned into. It's supposed to be about learning and acquiring knowledge, not skills. So many people go around saying "ugh, I can't believe I have to take this stupid required course, this has nothing to do with my degree, this won't get me a job, wah wah wah." Shut up. That's not the point. If you want a job, go to community college (Disclaimer: I don't have anything against community college or anything. I think it's great. I'm just saying that community college and university have different purposes). If you're not at university to learn and broaden your understanding of life/the world/things in general, you're in the wrong place. Get out.

2. It's too stressful. And no, that's not just me being a pansy. One of my profs was just talking about this yesterday, actually. Even she said that since we are there to learn, learning should be interesting and fun. And honestly, I find the knowledge is more likely to stick with me if, like she's doing, we have the exam questions a week in advance and can think about them over that time; rather than studying for a day and writing a 2-hour test. Less stress = happier students = better learning environment.

3. It's too focused. You have to limit yourself to studying at most two main subject areas, and then you can get about 4 credits-worth of brief glimpses of other sorts of things. I want to know about everything. We study and study and study so in-depth and so narrowly that we have no context of how it relates to anything else. There needs to be some breadth there too. And I hate hate hate that you have to be an "arts student" or a "science student" or a "commerce student" or whatever else. Why? What would be so bad about mingling them and letting someone major in, say, Physics and French? Why can't we do that? It's a stupid rule. Just stupid.

4. Research and teaching should not necessarily go hand in hand. I've heard stories, from both students and profs, about profs who actually told their classes that they hate students and only taught because they had to in order to get the research position. Yeah, I'm sure students will be learning a lot from profs like that. I understand that it's difficult for research to be done outside of the university setting, but I think the universities should have different positions. Research profs, and teaching profs. They can hire a certain amount of each, and if someone wants to do both, fine, they can apply for both and get hired maybe for one or the other, or maybe for both. And if someone wants to do one but not the other, they just apply for that position, and you don't end up with profs who hate students.

5. It's too expensive. But so are most things.


Loud said...

Man, I'm really glad I saw this!

I have some wonderful news for you:
You CAN probably manage a combined physics/French degree, or else I have been lead to believe that this is so. When I was talking to the student advisors at Dal, they told me that you could - for example - get a BA in Chemisry (ie. Chem major, arts electives). I think it might be buried in the rules somewhere in the undergraduate calendar. If you're really interested in that (and who wouldn't be?), go talk to them! If they were lying to me...kick 'em in the shins, if you please.

I think that to some degree, though, how much University is about getting a job depends on your course(s) of study and not so much the institution itself. Consider an Engineering degree; there are jobs for which this is decidedly non-negotiable. Do we set up Engineering colleges for the people who have a more concrete idea of what they'd like out of a degree than some of their peers? Even some arts degrees (Journalism, for example) seem to have more obvious job market applications than others. Considering also that ANY university degree will inevitably increase the salary an individual is paid (hence why they charge so much), it's a bit...hard to swallow that career motivation isn't a factor. Not that I don't disbelieve in education for education's sake mind you, and if you dislike both the price and the attitude of learning-for-jobs there are some interesting resources out there. OpenCourseWare is a wonderful example. Of course it won't really go on a resume and provide you a qualification, but if you're serious about education for its own sake, this is it.

I suppose there are also books, but those aren't as novel a resource, I suppose.

I definitely share your concern with university being too focused. I wish someone had a Renaissance (Wo)Man degree out there!



gnomesque said...

That's actually pretty sweet about getting that sort of degree at Dal; I wish they would make that more well known. Unfortunately it's probably too late for me to follow that route, without taking at least one if not several extra years. Since I've also heard that if you already have an arts or science degree, you can get the other with only two additional years instead of four, I think that would be a better option, if it's true. I'm also not sure whether I would really be significantly more satisfied with that; although it would give me a little more breadth, I'd still be confined to specializing in one-ish subjects. I guess my real problem is with the concept of majors and not just studying everything.

OpenCourseWare is seriously cool. Definitely something I am going to be exploring. Thanks for the link!

As for your other point, I think I did my usual thing where I get really worked up about something and mis-express myself. I do concede that there are most definitely job-related advantages of going to university. My problem is that it's not the point. So many people have the attitude that they're at university to get a job and anything that isn't directly related to that is a waste of time. Some profs seem to have this attitude, too. I guess the way I would ideally like universities to be run/attended is with the mindset that it is primarily about learning, and any career benefits are just an added bonus. And although it seems silly, and is most definitely not practical, setting up separate colleges for some subjects that are currently university degrees would make sense in some ways. I notice the job-centric attitude most, in general, with engineering/comp sci/commerce majors - subjects that I see as more skills-based, whereas arts/sciences are more knowledge-based, and the majority of arts and science majors I know are more like "WE LEARNED THE COOLEST THING TODAY I LOVE UNIVERSITY CAN I STAY FOREVER?" and have no idea what to do after university.

I don't know, probably part of my problem is that I've spent so much time studying the past that my concept of the what a university should be is stuck a few centuries in the past. :P

Loud said...

A good notion about snagging another degree after the first. I have heard a number of people talking about going down that road.

While I do think that spinning off certain fields into colleges, or some as-yet-unnamed hybrid institutions might be a good idea, the thought occurs that if Universities are already overly specialized, perhaps more integration and generalization is desirable? Perhaps the ability to tailor degree programs toward hard skills or abstract learning (presupposing a more-integrated post-secondary education system) as desired might at least keep the people with irreconcilable viewpoints out of each others' hair?

I dunno if it's a 'problem' that you'd be "stuck in the past" as regards your concept of what a University should be. Sure there's danger to nostalgia and idealizing the past, but there is *at least* equal value in recognizing where our predecessors got things right!