The first week of classes, dubbed “syllabus week” by most MU students, has already been long forgotten. As it was my final syllabus week, some general thoughts I've had about college seemed to come full circle during it.
Allow me to explain.
The doctoral candidate who conducted my first class went over the syllabus that he described as "intimidating" verbatim. He warned us not to use deaths in the family to get out of class. He said there’s statistical proof that if every family-related death reported by a college student during finals week were true, a Rhode Island-sized population would disappear.
He did not provide the proof.
He then said he only accepts homework in hard copy. He used to accept things from e-mail attachments but his “ancient laptop” got all kinds of viruses from deadly Word document files. His white Macbook appeared to be no more than five years old.
Have I mentioned yet that this class has six books? I was less than an hour into my semester and it was already on a downhill slope.
I went to my next class, which also has six required books. The instructor asked us if that was a lot.
The entire 60-person class nodded.
"No, it's not," she said back.
Why even ask?
She insisted that she wouldn’t baby us. She said that it wasn’t her job to get us out of bed and bring us to class every day and that if we wanted the knowledge, it was our job to come get it. She said that by now we were all adults and knew the responsibilities of higher education.
She immediately contradicted herself by calling us "kids" multiple times.
She didn’t feel bad for us, even if we were taking upward of 18 credit hours, because it’s less work than a 40-hour-a-week job. Irritation washed over me at that statement because going to class is definitely not the only thing students do. Most of the class consisted of seniors, which most likely means they’re taking the final classes for their majors and those classes immediately take precedence over others. Many students have jobs and other outside-of-class obligations. Just because our default title is student doesn’t mean going to class is the only thing we do. We don’t sit at home with blank stares on our faces every time we’re not in class. The cost of college and living doesn’t quite allow for that.
My final class of the day was a new gem called Men and Masculinities. Populated by fewer than 15 students, this class was what I’d been waiting for. The professor gave us just the right amount of detail about his scholarly work, his volunteer work and his personal life. He wanted the class to be very conversational. He had everyone say why he or she was taking the class. Behold, a professor who is honestly interested in motives behind why a student takes a class, a professor who will try hand-tailoring material to meet the students’ interests. Professors like this are few and far between at such a large university. It’s refreshing to have class with one.
Part of his e-mail address is composed of the characters "BWWING." It will be hard to lay off the Buffalo Wild Wings references in class this semester. Oh dear.
He mentioned he was still not over the fact that he only assigned two books for the semester instead of the many more he wanted to.
I was certainly over it already.
By the time I had only two days’ worth of class, I already had more than 300 pages assigned to be read in a couple of days. I understand why reading is a fundamental part of learning, but it is also the most time-consuming activity that has to do with learning.
When professors get students, they want to dump as much knowledge as possible onto them. I think instructors should consider taking a step back and understand that students have way too many things going on to be 100 percent committed to any one single class.
During my syllabus week, each professor seemed to have his or her own version of saying that he or she knew we had other obligations as students, but would then blow by that and assign something anyway. Like my first instructor did on Tuesday — he said he hated assigning reading quizzes and knew we were busy but he gives them anyway. Saying you’re sorry about giving students work doesn’t make the work any less strenuous. Why bother?
There's a weird shift from when students get to college as freshmen and how things develop as classes pile on. From the start, advisers and residence hall assistants urge us to get involved as much as possible in clubs and organizations to really take advantage of what we have. But then professors load us up with so much reading and work that it's sometimes impossible to get involved with anything, especially if a student has a part-time job.
Perhaps if we could only take a couple of classes at a time to be full-time students, it would be easier to make the most out of our educations. But it would take forever to earn a degree that way. Instead, students have to take many classes at once and try to balance which ones are the most important and which ones to place on the back burner. This also leads to the effect of not remembering much from classes taken just a year or two before.
Not to mention, the process of getting into classes that actually pertain to a student's interests at MU is dictated by when he or she is scheduled to begin signing up for classes online. If you're not scheduled to pick classes early, you're out of luck.
I have only seven semesters under my belt, yet I don’t think I can name every single class I’ve taken, much less remember major concepts we discussed after spending five months each in the classes.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who has noticed this lack of learning in college. I'm also partly echoing some points Alison Gammon made in her recent column. If you're tuckered out on the subject, my apologies to you.
I place classes that aren’t in my major (because the J-school requires us to take so many that have nothing to do with journalism) immediately behind journalism classes. Yes, I have come very close to failing a handful of classes because of this, but I don’t think I would go back and change anything if I could.
Take for instance, the moment I wrote this column. It was 2:50 in the morning and instead of catching up on the 150-plus pages of reading I was drowning in, I wrote this.
Which is more important, building a professional portfolio in writing to present with my resume, or reading a 170-page story that will be discussed for a single day in a class that has nothing to do with my major? I’ll pick expanding my portfolio every time.
Corey Motley is a magazine journalism major at MU. He's a columnist for the Missourian, a department editor at Vox Magazine and has time management issues. He blogs about video games on IGN under the username Motley14 and tweets more than any sane person should.