Loving learning. Hating school.
This semester I am taking on a project I have not done before – an independent study. My goal is to allow myself time to delve deeper into aspects of my major, research and future that I would otherwise not have time for during the semester while taking four other courses. I am excited to read at my own pace. I want to follow the path paved by my interests and curiosity rather than a syllabus. So far, I have engaged in profound conversations with professors with whom I share similar interests and gathered quite the collection of fascinating books. Funny thing is, however, despite creating this “space” in my schedule, I have yet to actually spend an afternoon with my nose buried in one of these books I have accumulated. Nearly two weeks have passed this semester and I have only been able to spend an hour here or there giving into my temptation and reading a few pages. The time I am able to devote to these enticing books is sadly fleeting due to a hefty workload that, for some reason, feels more mandatory than usual. Why is it that the courses we spend the most time studying are the ones in which our work is most frequently evaluated?
These last two weeks, I have learned the difference between learning because we want to gain knowledge or because we have to fill a quota. I certainly see the importance of general education requirements and the structure put in place to ensure adequate completion of majors, concentrations and tracks. I do not, however, understand the emphasis on evaluation, the seemingly necessary and infinite workload and the absence of time for exploration. Instead of preparing us for our futures, the schedule of a typical Ole appears to be better at preparing us for how to produce the most product in the shortest amount of time.
This has felt especially true these last two weeks with seemingly every internship application deadline under the sun somehow falling at the same time. It is difficult to balance devoting yourself to an application that you are extremely passionate about and focusing on the foundation of new courses at the same time. Many Oles I have spoken with are feeling the same way. “I’m simultaneously preparing for my future while screwing myself over,” said a friend. These last two weeks have made me wonder why this is the case. I am curious at what age we switched from being excited about learning to dreading class and yearning for sleep. Although it is easier said than done, by promoting individual exploration and taking the focus off of evaluation, I think we can revive our excitement for school again. Our opportunity to be at an institution like St. Olaf with access to the resources that we have is incredible. It is easy to get wrapped up into the “have to” and forget the reason we are here in the first place. Curiosity taught us almost everything about the world as a child and it has been buried by the rapid and chronic accumulation of exams, papers, and deadlines as we get older. I think uncovering that curiosity can help us manage the stress and put the emphasis back on loving learning rather than hating school.