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28 April 2002

Ah, these entries are getting somewhat far between. I really have no good excuse for this; I'm taking only 4 classes this quarter, one of which is particularly light, and I've been shirking recently in terms of time dedicated to activities (meaning the Protest, particularly). But whatever it is, I haven't seemed to get to sit down and write more than once a week.

When I was home for a few days this past week, one of the questions my mother asked me was, "Britt, do you feel like you're getting a really good education?" I looked at her, knowing that she and my father spend more than $25,000 per year, between payments and loans, to keep me at Northwestern. So of course I told her yes.

But I wonder sometimes. Not necessarily regarding the quality of the classes here as compared to other places, but just in terms of what I'm learning. It's striking, sometimes, when I spend my hours every week at my work-study job. I work at the Institute for Policy Research, and the research project I've been working on since the beginning of last year has to do with two-year colleges, community colleges as well as private vocational college. So every day I'll transcribe interviews or analyze survey data of these thousands of students who are around my age. And they all seem to have direction in life and to be actually preparing for careers and their future.

It's remarkable: so many college students taking classes in nursing or paralegal studies or computer engineering, on their way to graduating with the skills they need to get jobs. Even here, people who are taking math and science classes are learning skills and proceedures, building one course on top of the last. Or even journalism classes-- they're all "learn how" classes, not "learn about" classes.

But the classes I seem to enjoy are all "learn about" classes. I like to study people, what they've done in the past and what they're doing now around the world. If you count up the 25 classes I've taken in my first two years here, I can come up with two-- Editing & Writing and Spanish-- that have actually taught me skills (other than, of course, continous practice in writing papers).

I'm not saying that I haven't gotten anything from these classes. On the contrary, not only have I learned the actual subjects in these classes, I probably have a better sense of critical and comparative thinking, and a deeper appreciation for human differences and complexity, than I did when I came here. Yet, what does that really mean?

One of my goals is to, while at school, gain a basic understanding of all areas of the world. On top of Latin America, which I will get much more than an overview of, I've studied Africa and Islamic societies so far, and I want to hit Asia (this will probably involve two or three classes to get different regions) and the former Soviet/Communist bloc areas. And as much as I have an automatic reaction against the idea of studying Europe like everyone recommends for a good education, I really ought to take a class or two on Western Europe as well. I want to feel competent in regards to the recent history of everywhere in the world.

I already have a history minor, and as I look at what I want to get covered, a history major has become more than a passing thought. (This, of course, depends on whether I major in International Studies to go with the Poli Sci major I already have.) Although it's interesting, because the kind of "history" that interests me is what my friends say shouldn't be called history at all. That is, I love 20th century history. When I study 20th century history, I feel like I'm understanding the world the way it is now and the factors that have shaped it. I would feel uncomfortable and uninterested in most classes focusing on ancient times all the way up until the Industrial Revolution. To me, the relevant pieces of pre-20th century history are the ones that my professors present us with in the first one to four weeks of my 20th century classes. I accept that that background is important, but I study it because it's necessary background to understand 20th century events, never because I want to study it for itself. I've had a hard time moving slowly from the 600s through the 1800s in my Islam class-- four weeks of background is too much for me!-- and am overjoyed to start getting into the 20th century this week. And I want to do an independent study, and maybe even write a thesis, on the U.S. and Latin America during the 1980s. Yes, I was alive during the 1980s. That's the way I like it.

But back to my original question, which was, "Why the hell am I studying this?" It's probably highly unlikely that I will go on to graduate study in any of these fields, which is the only way in which taking these classes would be actual preparation for the future. While I feel very strongly that everyone should have the kind of basic understanding of the whole world that I'm trying to squeeze out for myself, it's basically just something to do to fill up classes as I spend my four years here. If I wasn't here, I could read a lot of books and do a lot of current events reading and come up with more or less the same thing. I love the college atmosphere-- there's something wonderful about living in a building with your closest friends at arm's reach-- but is it really worth over $100,000? That's a hell of a lot of money. Sometimes I take my daily life here and my classes and friends and activities and the building for granted. But I'm here because my parents are paying more than $1,000 a week for me to be here. Is it all worth it?

I know the question is largely academic (puns for you!), since it's not like I'm going to transfer out of Northwestern to somewhere cheaper. And as much as it makes it harder for them, paying for school isn't breaking my family's back, especially since my sister and I will only be at college at the same time for one year before I graduate and start helping them pay back loans. And getting a bachelor's degree has value in itself, regardless of the actual learning behind that degree. And I like being here. I like the people, I like living in PARC, I like the activities I'm part of it, I like being thousands of miles from my family, and, yes, I do like the classes. My parents were going to pay for it anyway, so I might as well just relax and enjoy it and not worry about value. Heck, it seems like most other people don't. If things are good, that's all that should matter, not trying to figure out if they're $1000-a-week good.

That, or I could just drop out and enroll at ITT and learn to be a court recorder.

 

Last updated 23 October, 2002

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Intellectual Property Rights denounced by Britt Gordon-McKeon, 2002