For a Real Education, Ditch the Lecture Hall

    Istayed up until 5 a.m. last night reading XKCD comics and watching Kevjumba videos on YouTube. (If you know what I’m talking about on both counts, we need to be friends.) You see, I like the Internet. No — I am the Internet. In all seriousness, beyond the less intellectual subparts of e-culture, the Internet is a goldmine of information, and boy do I like to mine. I have this slight, slight obsession in which my RSS reader is refreshed 24/7, my Gmail is checked religiously and God forbid a Facebook notification go unnoticed. My roommates and I actually had our first argument last Friday because I refused to go out with them. I was blogging, OK?

    Friends of mine seriously wonder how I scrape by without very much studying. I’m usually on a combination of Google Reader, Facebook, WordPress, Delicious, Digg, Twitter, Tumblr … and the list goes on. Microsoft Word rarely takes precedence, unless my term paper’s due in T-minus 15 minutes — and even then, I alt-tab my way through the next 45. Truth is, I gave up on academia a long time ago. Math went in sixth grade, when I got my first D — that’s life-crumbling for a 10-year-old. I did my best to plow through science, but honors chemistry confirmed I should never be honored for doing anything science-related. Ever.

    Several years later, my public education is still wasting away. I put in as much effort as is necessary to get by and spend the remainder of my time dabbling in my own endeavors. These days, my communication courses go highly undervalued on my part.

    I know, I know. I’m getting an education worth tens of thousands of dollars. I should appreciate that opportunity — and I do. But for me, there are academic studies — the ones that come spelled out neatly on a four-page syllabus, with midterms and papers and finals wedged between readings — and then there are studies of the real world. I like to think of myself as a student of the actual, ever-dynamic communication field, not a student of research papers and theoretical analyses. Professors can assign all the readings they want, but ultimately I find far more value in my daily mixed bag of online reads that cover everything from economic trends to technology news. I find more value in actually engaging in the use of socially transformative technology than studying what one person thought about the implications of such tools 10 years ago.

    There’s no doubt I respect my professors for their thorough understanding of their respective fields, and I do realize that there’s much more I should be doing to make my time here worth it. But when people reprehend my lack of enthusiasm for my university studies, insisting that college is about enlightenment and critical thinking, I have to argue: Isn’t higher education supposed to be about stretching our minds? My courses only stretch my thinking so far. Maybe, in my inattentiveness to my academics, the year the radio went mainstream or the definition of “conduit metaphor” will pass me by, but still, it’s not me that’s not milking all the potential I have to learn. Our in-class studies are but a fraction of all that we should be absorbing in these four years. It’s those who are spending their time holed up in the library, poring over oft-irrelevant material when there is so much more to observe in current society that changes by the day — they’re the ones who are missing out.

    I have to question: Are the students who know all the answers to pop quizzes even here out of their thirst for knowledge or the false sense of job security that comes with a college degree? Is it actually me who doesn’t care about learning? Though I have this purported distaste for my communication major, the truth is that I am wholly obsessed with the field. But instead of simply hitting the books, I spend my time living, reading and breathing it.

    Every day we experience groundbreaking politics, a fluctuating economy and cutting-edge innovation. Modern communication has been irreversibly revolutionized with the onset of Web 2.0 and new media; the Internet has become such a seamless part of our lives that we hardly notice how it has been able to renovate our thinking. Not to take advantage of your real-world studies and the unlimited access you have to all that’s out there — that’s a far greater loss than playing hooky on your morning class. Call me jaded, but in my eyes, a self-driven learning experience is not only mentally worthwhile, it’s plenty more applicable to life after college than the lecture hall learning of your average student.

    Nevertheless, I realize that seeking out your own applications of learning and gaining knowledge through institutional studies aren’t mutually exclusive endeavors. I know there’s a lot to be said about my learning style (or lack thereof), and thus my personal goal is to find a little more worth within the classroom. But — and I promise to step off my soapbox now — I hope the rest of you remember to find a little more outside of it.

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