Disclaimer: I am doing quite well in school. I am not complaining about my teachers, grades, or exams, I’m examining the system here as I see it, with no particular focus on how well I’m doing. I like Queen’s University, and none of this should be taken as a flounce. Also, this is part of a project I’ll be doing for the duration of my time at Queen’s, and is probably not my final opinion on university.
Ok. Here it is. The rant that’s been a few months in coming. The one that’s been itching at my insides unbearably since I first set foot on campus on frosh week. The rant that’s had me taking notes in preparation to write it out for the past semester. It’s a two part rant, actually. This (obviously) is part one:
There’s a lot wrong with university.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for higher education. I think university is a wonderful thing for those who choose to pursue it. I love the idea of young people developing themselves as world citizens and human beings. One of the ways we do that is by seeking out experts and dedicating ourselves to a learning experience. Which is great. If I wasn’t into all of that, I wouldn’t have chosen to take online university courses for a couple of years as a teen while traveling. I certainly wouldn’t be majoring in Geography today on campus at one of the best universities in Canada.
However. As a young person who is currently in this system, observing the way it works on a daily basis, I feel like I have a personal responsibility to speak up. I’m irritated. I’m skeptical. I’m wondering why we’re doing things the way we’re doing them. I’m coming to the conclusion that this system is a mess. After watching and participating in it for a while, there’s a few things I’d like to point out.
Beginning at a fundamental level, is the university system here to help us become well-rounded individuals capable of critical thought, or is it here to mindlessly crank out a new generation of overly-qualified workers?
Because it seems to be confused on this front. In class, I’m told I’ll be expected to think critically, work creatively, and be dedicated to learning. But in the very next session, I’m handed a sheet that tells me exactly what my assignment is, precisely what I’m allowed to do with it, and that I’ll be graded on my ability to follow the rules. Exploring outside the parameters of the assignment is not allowed. Often the assignments are basic, boring, regurgitation of information. Explain to me how, exactly, this promotes critical thought, creativity, or a desire to learn? Even in first year, is this really useful or necessary?
It’s going to be absolutely impossible for me to explore a topic, truly learn about it, apply it to my own life, and show my professors that I have actually absorbed the material. I can’t. I’ve been told ahead of time exactly what I’m supposed to write, how I’m supposed to write it, and how it should fit in with every other report on the topic. This isn’t learning. This is learning that critical thinking is not necessary, and that if we simply follow pre-set parameters we will do well in life.
Here’s a newsflash: Life is not determined by pre-set parameters.
The university bubble me and my peers are living in is not an accurate representation of the real world. The rule-following dependency skills we are learning here will do nothing for us except cripple our abilities to think creatively and take charge of our own lives and learning processes. It feels to me a bit like false advertising on the part of the university.
Alright, moving on. It does seem that at one point universities truly were meant to build upon a basic education, providing access to new topics and laying the foundation for a healthy, inquisitive mind. For the most part, that’s how they were marketed and perceived by the general public. However, I don’t think many would argue against the idea that today they are used by the majority of students as a way to earn a golden ticket to a high-paying job. So assuming that this is now their primary function, are they succeeding? No, not really. In fact, we have a surplus of over-qualified workers, and many low wage job spots are going unfilled. Students need to up their games, getting master’s degrees and doctorates before they can really improve their chances of getting the job of their dreams.
In total: Universities are not successfully instilling critical thought or creativity if that is their goal, and they aren’t providing jobs to the masses if that’s their true purpose.
So why the heck are we still using this system?! Is it even useful to us at this point? I don’t have answers to this. I know that in our day and age, not having a bachelor’s degree at least can be crippling. I recognize the value of education. But I’m skeptical about the setup.
Secondly, the actual teaching and testing methods are whack. They’re set up for people who are excellent writers. Everyone else is set up for failure. I’ll typically have to write two or three papers per class, per semester, ranging from one page to nine. The majority of my grade is based on how well I do on the papers. Of course, there are also exams, but even the exams are made for those who do well with writing. At the end of my last semester, two of my exams were three hours of writing (each), and the other was weighted 50% essay question, 50% multiple choice. No other methods are available. How well you do in class is based on your ability to take notes and write, how well you do in exams is based on your ability to bullshit an essay under pressure. Does that seem right to you?
The system isn’t ideal for the teachers, either. After a particularly stressful exam in which I had to write 3,200 words BY HAND in a three hour chunk (ouch), I did the math and realized that the TAs and professor for that class would have to edit over 1,280,000 words, or 3,214 pages over the winter break. Does THAT seem right to you? I won’t even go into how essay question based exams aren’t actually indicative of what you’ve learned from your class. That much seems obvious.
I don’t have the answers. I have no idea where to go from here. But realizing that there is a problem is the first step. These are the issues that I’ve seen during my first semester at Queen’s. We’ll see where it goes from here. I’ve decided to address this in two parts, the second is coming soon. Because it’s not ALL the fault of the university or the system or the professors. The more I’m here, the more I’m coming to believe that my generation is a huge part of the problem. So much so, I couldn’t fit it all into one post. Stay tuned.
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on everything I noted here. Let me know what you think!