Wasting Time In America: Universities
In The First Installment Of This Three-Part Series, Take A Trip To University Where A Tour of Tedium Awaits
A vacuous university existence is typically a person's first realization that wasting time is part of the American way of life.
By Wayne Schutsky
Special for Modern Times Magazine
March 8, 2011 — We are sheep. This is something we've all heard too many times before. We follow the crowd. We have no direction. We stumble along down society's pre-determined path, blind. But what is so wrong with that? While it is easy to spout off about sheep and zombies and clones and all sorts of farm animal/Sci-fi rhetoric, no one seems to delve a little deeper and tell us what the hell is wrong with accepting the status quo.
Why don't we just role with it and stop bitching? The major qualm I have with toeing the narrow, crowded line is that it wastes so much of my goddamn time.
Read Part Two
And, I know what you're thinking: “if I hate the line so much then I should just venture off on my own and leave everyone else alone.” That solution is not that easy because this structured pathway of life — with its board game-ish rigidity— has pervaded nearly every aspect of everyday life. It is nearly inescapable.
Take one of my special college experiences, for example (and don't think the irony/hypocrisy inherent within my patronization of a university in relation to this argument escapes me). As an English major, as is true within any other field of study, I am required to take certain courses. One of these courses is Rhetoric and Grammar or, as I refer to it, The Boring and Useless Class That Reiterates Things I Learned in Junior High.
The basic purpose of the class is to show students how to properly use grammar and how this proper usage benefits their arguments rhetorically. While this may sound like a decently plausible class requirement for an English major, consider the fact that the topics covered in the class — prepositional phrases, dependent versus independent clauses, semi-colon use, etc. — are the same topics covered in junior high and freshmen English courses.
In order to make the class seem more relevant, the textbook attempts to confuse us by giving three different names for a verb phrase or seven different versions of a dependent clause. Instead of teaching us new concepts, the class simply re-teaches us concepts we already know using different titles. It is confusing for some, to say the least.
Imagine, upon turning 21, someone tells you that you no longer know how to ride your bike. You are actually supposed to sit on it backwards. The bike will still work; it is just going to be a lot more difficult to master.
Oh yeah, and it is now called a two-wheeled manually operated person mover.
The university has successfully forced us to pay a gratuitous amount of money to be tricked into forgetting a subject we already understand.
Not to mention, it makes us look really stupid. Picture a 22-year old college student misusing a comma on a worksheet because the 94 new rules on punctuation (which actually amounts to 94 new ways to say the same old thing) overloaded their brain.
I spend two-and-a-half hours a week pushing through this awkwardness. Sure, at first it was funny to watch a college senior struggle with basic concepts, but it soon became depressing, kind of sad, and a total waste of my time.
Everyday I slip into class as late as possible and wait for the teacher to take attendance, which nearly sets me off on another tangent (I am in college right?). I reel myself in just in time to hear the professor begin her lecture on noun phrases. While her overly impassioned, Italian-grandmotheresque mannerisms make this subject interesting for about 30 seconds, I lose interest right when I realize that I learned this in seventh grade.
It is at this point I realize that I could be anywhere else doing something productive, something I actually have an interest in. I could be enrolled in a number of other courses that cover subject matter I have not yet encountered in my life. I could be writing. Sitting in my room. Typing away. Nurturing the only talent I really care about and working to further my fledgling career as a writer.
In other words, I could be learning. Ironically, the university is, at times, the one entity stopping me from accomplishing its primary goal.
To be fair, Rhetoric and Grammar and the various other ambiguously useful required courses that range across the catalogs of all majors still have a place in the educational system. There are a few students in the class that obviously need a second go around on the topic.
At one point, a particular outlier in my class asked, “Commas are used like taking a breath, right?"
However, I still maintain my original opinion that the majority of us just need to shake the rust off and remember what we already know. For this majority of students, a class like this should simply be an optional course.
I know it's hard, but the university needs to take the training wheels off and let students take a crack at making an adult decision. If you are terrible at grammar, take the course. If not, move on.
But no, why should it do that? This university says that we will not graduate as complete English-degree holders without it. I guess I will have to take their word for it.
So, I am stuck listening to the socially awkward girl who monotonously yells the computer shortcuts used to insert different punctuation marks like she has shell shock. Though, she is not as annoying as the little Neal Conan in the corner of the room who thinks that his knowledge of the subject matter is somehow unique.
In the meantime, the university will mine our little brains and find our old knowledge on grammar for us. They will prepare us to enter the real world where strict rules will attempt to govern our every move.
Let the fun begin.
Read Part Two
Wayne Schutsky is an English major at Arizona State University.