Recently I watched a college edition of Jeopardy. Everyone knows College Jeopardy is for pussies, but we all need victories no matter how petty, so I made sure the idiot from Dartmouth heard my condescending screams thru the TV. I performed admirably, but as the three awkward students shook Trebek’s hand at the end of the game I was left to wonder; how smart am I? It’s a hard thing to measure in your adult life. I’m not in class anymore, there are no scantrons or blue books to test what knowledge I do have, and to be honest some days I wonder if the information I learn is really all that important.
If I wanted to impress you I would sit you down and tell you all about the spread of Islam, specifically how it related to Spain’s early history and how there was a beautiful yet controversial period called the convivencia in which Jews, Muslims and Christians all lived together in relative harmony until the crusades, church and the reconquista squashed it all. I could confidently mumble my way through the definition of what a quasar is, and might even be able to tell you what Boo Radley really represents in To Kill a Mockingbird. These are facts and theories that are not my own that I can spit out at a moments notice. When repeated properly to a willing audience, they provide a thin veneer of what many of us consider to be education and intelligence. I, however, am not so sure of this.
I graduated from a 4-year institution with modest accolades. I never pushed myself too hard, nor did I allow myself to fall behind. Let me be clear before I continue that I would not trade those 4 years for anything (maybe a jetpack with unlimited fuel) because I met the most amazing people and had unforgettable experiences. Some would argue that socialization, learning how to behave in a pack, and thus becoming a quality citizen is the true objective of College, and if that is the case then College was a great success for me. I am more concerned with the education we receive from 4-year institutions in the U.S. and specifically the classes we are offered.
My sophomore year I chose to take a class called Earth Science and the Cinema. Yes, you read that correctly. We would watch clips of popular disaster movies like Twister, Armageddon and Deep Impact and then do simple math problems to prove why these disasters as portrayed in the movies would never happen that way. It satisfied my quantitative requirement as well as my penchant for shitty disaster movies. It was all very funny back then, and in many ways still is, but it’s also very sad. It’s sad students had the option to waste 6 weeks like this, it’s sad the university wasn’t more creative or progressive in their offerings, and in times of intellectual doubt, and we all have those times, I can’t help but think back to Earth Science and the Cinema and wonder what the hell I was doing.
You can point to many reasons why these problems exist. Institutional bureaucracy is hard to deal with. Things don’t change with the snap of a finger. For me, College came too early. I wasn’t ready to be smart and seek out my own education. Maybe I would have been better served taking time off and traveling or working, or completing my general education requirements at a community college for a fraction of the cost. I chose to major in history early on because it was the class I didn’t fall asleep in during high school. Many other students pick their classes based on their friends, sleep and or drinking schedules. These choices don’t matter a whole lot when you exist within the colligate bubble, but what problems do they potentially create once you graduate? I may not want to trade those 4 years I spent for anything, but if I were creating classes to best aid students in “the real world,” I would do things a little different. The following is a mock syllabus of a course I’d like to call #Realworldshit (You know, to appeal to the youth or whatever).
Week 1 – Graphic Design
• A skill that allows you to call yourself an artist while getting paid? Awesome. Sometimes the freelance life can be stressful, but as long as there are movies, concerts, companies, ads etc… Graphic designers will be in demand. Go torrent Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and lets get started.
Week 2- Web Design
• Similar to week 1, but this week will focus on HTML, basic coding and maybe some looks into Ruby design and app development. Kids are on their phone and apps all the time; let’s make their appsurd ideas a reality.
Week 3 – Tax Returns and The IRS
• These guys aren’t just bad guys and assholes in movies? What!? Yup, they exist and want your W-2’s, A-1’s, and G-6’s. I made up the last two, but maybe you don’t know that I did. Some basic financial knowledge goes a long way.
Week 4 – Car Maintenance
• You don’t need to be a grease monkey, but checking your own oil, jumping your car and changing a tire are all things you should have in your carsenal (sorry). Plus girls get super wet when you can do car things.
Week 5 – Actually Learn A Language
• Juan and Pablo sit at a café: Juan: Hola Pablo, como estas?—Eff this shit. You will never learn anything this way. I think studying abroad should be mandatory. It’s the best way to learn a language, learn about yourself and meet hot foreign people in the process.
Week 6 – Ping Pong
• It’s just a great game.
Maybe one week for each of these is too short, maybe they deserve their own semesters, or even majors, but I can guarantee the world at large does not care how many times you can use the word ‘hegemony’ in a sentence. There is no premium placed on the general knowledge of anything, in fact, life can be quite specific and often rewards those who seek out its niches. We need to take responsibility for our education. I still don’t know whether I am smart, but I know damn well I don’t crush at Jeopardy because I took Earth Science and the Cinema.