Monday, January 08, 2007

Inherit the Wind and Other Academic Hustles

While today marks the beginning of the second semester of my new life as a full-time student (I’d been part-time for the previous six semesters), I’ve been going to school long enough to be of the opinion that: college is a hustle. Universities raise tuition fees at will, and book publishers make minimal changes to textbooks in order to come out with new editions almost yearly for courses that are required; and of course, the new editions are ten bucks more every year. Since I’ve been back in school, our student activity fee has increased 18%, the student health fee has more than doubled, and the athletic fee has increased 12%; and I’m not that athletic. Also, even though non-traditional students make up close to half of the campus population, more and more remedial classes are being fazed out of state curricula. So, if you decide you want to change your life and go back to school after a twenty year hiatus, but you haven’t seen an algebra book since high school, you’re really going to have to step up your game. My school’s minimum required mathematics is a “low-level” calculus class. These are some of the ways, I think, institutions weed out those who may be less focused, perhaps less capable, or those of us who may simply need a little help forging our educational goals. Frankly, the way I see it: it’s a racket.

But, that’s just one of the hustles.

One thing I’ve learned: college is a game, and she who finishes, gets the degree, and the job. Get multiple degrees and your opportunities grow. Get a technical or science or mathematical degree, and your possibilities increase further. But, with the exception of the information that you’re actually interested in (for me it’s English), all of the “required” courses are just the hoops you have to jump through in order to gain the knowledge you really want. And, you pay dearly for privilege. The lower level courses, such as “Introduction to This or That”, are pretty formulaic. The professors are generally part-time, with only a Masters degree, as opposed to a Ph.D., so they generally don’t even create their own syllabus. It’s a standard syllabus created by the department with exactly what they think you should know by the end of the course, and every instructor follows it from semester to semester.

Enter Dick York and Spencer Tracey.

It so happens, that just last night I saw the movie Inherit the Wind for the first time. It turns out that this “Creationism vs. Evolution” debate is nothing new. This movie is a fictionalized account of the 1925 Trial (the "Monkey" Trial), which resulted in Scopes’s conviction for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution to a high school science class, contrary to a Tennessee state law that mandated the teaching of a form of creationism. Now, it so happens that Biology 1112 begins with the discussion of “evolution”, seeing as how evolution is the unifying theme in biology. But, in the spirit of political correctness, professors always have to provide a disclaimer at the beginning of a class, “I’m not trying to tell you how to think” or “It’s perfectly okay if you believe in Creationism, but this is what we teach based on the material” or, “Please don’t go tell your pastor that we don’t believe in God”, yadda, yadda, yadda. And, while college is supposed to be a safe place to ask “Why”, it’s not the most convenient. These professors have a schedule, ya' know. They don’t have time to entertain questions like, “If you chop off one of a bird’s wings, will birds evolve into one-winged creatures?” Yes, someone actually asked that question. In a room full of youthful curiosity, thick enough to encrust a fossil for thousands of years to come, I could feel people secretly questioning their paradigms.

But, I understand. At nineteen and twenty most of us aren’t that secure in our beliefs. What we believe is constantly being challenged and constantly evolving. And, that’s okay. Or, it should be. Because, whatever you believe, if it’s that important, no one or no thing will be able to breach it. And, if a new idea does get through, then maybe it’s worth considering. However, with higher learning, like with religion, you have to know how to eat the fish and spit out the bones. The tests for classes such as this are all multiple choice, Scantron forms. That’s how standard it is. They don’t care what your beliefs are. Memorize the material, mark the right answer on the form, get the A, get the degree, pass go and collect the $200. Save the questions for your guru.

I even had to reign myself in once or twice in a history class (before I mastered the game). My then, blond, Finnish (from Finland) professor, whose concentration for his Ph.D. was African American studies, who is married to an African American woman, father to biracial children, who enjoys rapper, Fifty Cents, who thought Hustle and Flow was the Best Movie of the Year, made the mistake of comparing slavery to the holocaust. Humph! Because the class was full of eighteen to twenty-somethings, he thought he would get no response when he implied that slaves somehow had it good because they had regular meals and clothing. I had to remind him of The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, where Douglass talks about how as a slave child, he ate mush from a trough with other children, like pigs. Or, how adults were given one pair of socks a year and children were given none; they walked barefoot year-round. Even in the winter. But, I raised up, and got a B out of his class. Cause no Finnish, wannabe who thinks he knows black people will ever be able to convey what I know my folks went through; no matter how many degrees or black women he has.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home