Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Man, I Hate (Certain Aspects of) College

I just finished the second day of classes for what should be (barring a major fuck-up on my part) my last college undergraduate semester ever. In fact, it’ll most likely be my last semester of any type of education ever (and you’ll infer why on your own as I progress), unless I attend nursing school after unsuccessfully trying to find gainful employment as a journalist or writer for the next couple of years. The probabilities of this happening are not really all that unlikely, and this route of action is literally something that my Mom has suggested to me on more than one occasion, probably because she’s a nurse herself as well as a woman who likes to take big metaphorical shits on my dreams.

I would like to say that I disagree with her, because after spending four years and more than $50,000 at one of the universities that is considered by many to be far above adequate in an academic sense, I think I should be able to get a job in an area I studied for. I should at least be prepared to hold a job in said area--and I am, but not because I went to Penn State, but because I’ve learned a great deal from actual internships and jobs in the journalism field (and didn’t have to pay my employers for this opportunity).

What I’m trying to say is that college is not even close to being worth what people are forced to pay for it, and in some situations isn’t even necessary. There are certain areas of study that college is almost completely pointless for, if a person is assertive enough to educate themselves and be assertive in trying to find jobs that will supplement their self-education, power of thought and need for experience in the field they hope to break into.

Some of the most successful people I’ve ever met or studied in my life didn’t go to college. My Grandfather is one notable example. He started working at grocery stores and built himself up to an owner of a major business. He also kills it in the stock market, kind of like Michael Douglas in Wall Street. He knows things about running a successful business that no business major I’ve ever run into could even touch, and this is just from learning from the people around him. He didn’t need some professor to tell him what a good investment was, or that if you want to keep your business going you need to find good employees and keep your shelves adequately stocked. He just learned from inserting himself into the kind of business he sought to become involved in, and it has worked perfectly. So much so, actually, that he’s been able to generously contribute a significant amount of money to what my education is paid for with. (An education where I have actually been required to pay for credit hours to take shit like Ballroom Dancing, Meteorology and high school level Algebra.)

Augusten Burroughs, the wildly successful author of the books Running With Scissors and Dry basically never went to school after he was 12 years old. Instead, he set out teaching himself about the advertising industry, then went out to California and got himself a job as an advertising copywriter.

These types of things used to be pretty possible, if not slightly common. People found their talents and perfected them themselves without the help of academia. I’m sure that, if society dictated it reasonable, there are plenty of people out there who could learn enough about their chosen profession in high school and through a number of apprenticeships (internships, something where they can be around people in their career and learn the ways of it while also helping the companies with some of their more menial tasks). Unfortunately, though, if a person wants to get a job in most areas other than basic manual labor, they must now have a college degree, and I think that’s a shame as well as a waist of time and money for a lot of people.

Now, I’m not trying to say that all people shouldn’t have to go to college, and far from it. I don’t want a fucking doctor that’s just been watching Grey’s Anatomy to give me heart surgery (and I probably wouldn’t even want relationship advice from him/her), and I wouldn’t let my friend Lenny represent me in a criminal trial just because he watches as much Law and Order as my Grandma. And, I guess I would give preference to someone seeking a job at a newspaper that had a college degree as opposed to someone who like to read a lot of books and magazines and papers but had only really written for their high school yearbook. This is probably because society has made me think this way, and I’d like to say I’d do otherwise, but it doesn’t fucking matter. The way things are now, college is basically essential, and nobody is going to change that at all. I have to accept that, and I do.

I do have a suggestion to make it cheaper and more bearable for everyone who goes: Make a person’s generally accepted tenure at a college two years long (2 1/2 to 3 absolute maximum). This would cut the cost of attending absolutely in half, and it will also pretty much cut the course load in half. At first glance this would seem pretty much implausible, but I propose completely cutting out general education classes. They’re in my “stupidest ideas ever” category, right up there with the decision to give Heidi Pratt a record deal and the Snuggie, and I’ve had to take 45 credits of them throughout my college career. If you take 15 credits per semester, which is probably about the norm, that’s a year and a half of your college education. And there are definitely a few more classes they could cut out of the core curriculum for a lot of majors that would eliminate the fourth semester. (A prime example of this is a Comm 400 class I started today. 400 level classes are supposed to be the most difficult. This class is called Mass Media and Culture. One of the two books I have for the class is called Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. I have a class where one of our major talking points is fucking porn. Furthermore, we spent a good portion of an hour and 15 minute class playing a game called “Two Truths and One Lie.” In a college class. I think I could move on to a career in pretty much any industry--including adult entertainment--and be completely fine without that class. But I have to take it to graduate from my major.) That’d be two years taken away from the amount of school a person would have to attend and pay for right then. This would also allow campuses to cut down to a smaller size (since less students would be attending at any given time) and be less costly to maintain.

If this happened, fewer professors would be needed (and I don’t give a shit about eliminating those jobs, because the vast majority of professors I’ve had--with a few notable exceptions--have not been very dedicated to the aspect of teaching kids things at all, but only with their own research that they could be doing from their homes. Maybe then their research would be better, because they wouldn’t have a bogus teaching job to fall back onto if they weren’t putting enough effort forth.), and that’s fine with me. They sometimes rub me the wrong way. They often seem to think that they’re doing us a favor by teaching and giving us meaningless assignments that ultimately end up as final grades that could very well dictate the direction a person’s life is going in. It doesn’t seem like they realize they’re getting paid to perform a pretty easy job (it’s got to be easier than being a high school or elementary school teacher, for many reasons), and that they’re not paying us to sit in their class and listen to some of the insignificant things they blather on about.

So many teachers these days--pretty much all of them--make it a point to tell kids to turn off their phones during class, and not to send text messages or read the news on their Blackberries or whatever. They get all hot and bothered if a person comes into class late, whether it was their fault or not. They won’t even let you take a fucking nap. They want a person’s full and undivided attention, which I think is bullshit. I don’t want to say it’s a good idea to sit in a class and text someone the whole time, but I also don’t think the professors should be able to tell you how to behave at all as long as it’s not a distraction to the other people in the classroom. They want us to respect them (something I think should be earned and not given just because they went to grad school), and they want to essentially be our bosses, and this makes no sense to me. I wouldn’t get out my phone and start text messaging when my boss was talking to me, but that’s because he is my employer and the person that pays me money and gives me health insurance. I’m not paying him to provide guidance for me, but he is part of the company that is paying me, and is higher up in that company than me. As far as I’m concerned, professors shouldn’t really be considered bosses. They are more knowledgeable than most of the students, I’m sure, but their job is to provide that knowledge to people if they want to listen to it, not to make them sit in class and pay attention to every word they say if they don’t have to to be successful in that class, or if they simply aren’t worried about the results of that class.

It’s this same reason that I don’t think attendance should be mandatory. I have a class right now that I’m pretty sure I could do very well in, since it’s mostly reading intensive, but if I miss more than 5 classes I completely fail the course. That’s such bullshit. Especially because probably at least half of the students in that class are smarter than me and better with reading comprehension. These kids would only have to come to class on the days that quizzes were given if there wasn’t an attendance policy and the professor didn’t make them “pop” quizzes so people would show up and listen to him talk about a bunch of insignificant shit. Then, when these intelligent kids do show up to class and realize that their fears were true--that they were learning nothing from the professor’s lecture, they get yelled at for checking their e-mail on the phone or getting in a quick nap so they will be more alert for a class they actually need to concentrate in.

It’s like we should be the bosses, to a certain extent, but we aren’t at all. It’s kind of like being Michael Scott.

Now there are two arguments that I’m sure I might get from people about my idea to eliminate two years from school. The first will come from some of the professors who would be scared shitless if something like this was to happen, because they’d be axed from teaching a class about Love & Sex and not have anywhere else to turn because they majored in Greek Philosophy. The second will come from my friends that like to read this, and also like to live the kind of lifestyle that I do.

The first would be that general education credits are necessary because not everybody knows what they want to do or be whenever they come to college.

Are you fucking kidding me? If you don’t know what you want to be, then don’t go to college in the first place. If you’re that Hell-bent on going and figuring out what your calling is (and I haven’t heard many people that have found it because of an inspiring gen-ed class) then you can pay the extra money for those extra two years and be undecided about a major. The rest of us shouldn’t have to shell out inordinate amounts of money to learn about Astronomy when we want to be social workers.

The second would be that the social aspect of college is the time of a person’s life, sometimes, and really can’t be beat. This is because when you’re in college and paying a lot of money to waste a lot of time, you can go out and get hammered on margaritas on a Monday night and not worry about it. Not only are there a ton of your colleagues out doing the same thing, but it’s pretty much socially acceptable. I’ve heard so many people complain about graduating this semester and going into the “real world,” and I know they will tell me they want to drag out college for as long as they can, and a two-year cutoff would affect that plan very negatively.

To them I say do one of two things: learn how to get wasted and deal with a hangover and still attend to your responsibilities like the millions of functional alcoholics throughout the world do every single day, or take the $30,000 (and this is only tuition, not even living expenses or book prices) that you would be spending to go to school and move wherever the fuck you want. Then have yourself a two-year bender and don’t do anything else. That’s even better than going to college, right? And that $30,000 worth of spending money is more than enough to live off of for two years, unless you do more coke than Lindsey Lohan. Actually, if you did something like this, you could probably do some traveling and meet some pretty interesting people, and maybe even learn more beneficial things than you would if you spent two years taking gen-eds.

(On a side note, I guess an idea like this could fuck up college athletics, but the athletes that are really good don’t stay for four years anymore, anyway. And I guess we could allow them to stay for four years and take a master’s program in public speaking, so that way we could have ex-athletes-turned-commentators that could actually form sentences.)

To further prove my point that college is vastly overpriced and basically a gigantic waste in certain ways, I’ll resort to some of the mathematics I learned in 8th grade and got a refresher on at 19 because I needed to fulfill a quantification gen-ed requirement.

If you were to take a class worth three credits, and your tuition is $7,000 per semester (roughly what it is at PSU currently), the semester lasts 12 weeks (which it does pretty much universally, unless you go in trimesters like Ohio State, which apparently works well for Pryor) and you’re taking 15 credits (basically the norm), you’re paying $466.67 per credit. If it’s a three credit class you have three times a week, at 50 minutes per shot, then you’re paying $38.89 for each one of those classes, not including the price of textbooks. So, if you’re skipping one class, you can purchase a month’s subscription to some of the best pornography Web sites on the market (I did some research). And I’ll tell you what: you’ll probably benefit more from that when it’s all said and done than you would from going to one class for 50 minutes (it’s all about perspective).

I also looked up some ballroom dancing lesson prices in the area, and they charge $30.00 per person for a 50 minute lesson, and that’s for two individuals and not for a classroom full of clammy-palmed people you’ve never met in your life.

I’ve come this far, though, and have to finish this semester and graduate. It’s just difficult to think about how much money has gone into something that, if I didn’t absolutely need to go through it, I could probably have done without and not been that different or worse off (I’m talking about the educational part, not the social part). I guess I’ll just have to swallow hard and go with it, and hope someday some portion of it pays off for me.

I do know one thing, though. After I graduate and get those phone calls from people trying to get me to donate money as an alumnus to my alma mater, I’ll send them a copy of the softcore porn I’ve written the script for, to thank them for all that they’ve taught me.