Education is not a commodity!

Irene Chen ichen at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Tue Nov 18 20:04:17 EST 1997

Hi everyone,

I have to admit that I rarely read all the mail which flows through this
newsgroup, but the latest thread caught my attention. I am an
undergraduate student (chemistry), and, although I recognize some of the
cynical traits that people have been pointing out in undergraduates, I
also think that our perceived apathy has more to do with inhibitions
rather than true disinterest. Of course I don't know how it used to be,
but my feeling is really that most undergraduates are interested and
enthusiastic but just afraid of looking uncool in front of their peers. I
love classes where I'm surrounded by other excited students who are full
of questions and willing to ask them during class! At the same time, I
think that we're very often unwilling to speak up or show interest because
our peers may think we're showing off, schmoozing up to the prof, have no
life, or possibly are just anal. I really don't think that interest itself
is lacking, just the willingness to show it.

I also TF a general chem class which is populated primarily by first-years
who are taking the class as a prereq. I also get quite discouraged by
the apparent apathy in my section, but I attribute it more to their
general stress and to the relatively sedate nature of the material
(although I do my best to make it exciting for them!). 

Finally, I was taken aback by the characterization of undergrads as
grade-grubbing consumers of education; I think this is really because we
recognize that graduate schools and job offers will be heavily based on
our grades and recommendations, and all classes (including nonmajor
classes!) are weighed equally, so we have to balance our studying among
all our classes. This means that classes we are really interested in won't
get all the attention we'd want to give them. Clearly in graduate school,
with a sharper focus, we'd be more motivated by our studies. College IS
the time for figuring out what we want to do (not necessarily already
doing it!), and it's impossible to be totally committed to everything
we're interested in. 

I do hope that the posts I've been reading aren't reflective of the true
opinion of my teachers! It is too bad that societal inhibitions are higher
now, but I absolutely do not think that students don't love science (or
anything else) anymore. It's also possible that the sheer amount of
scientific information out there overwhelms students, making them wonder
when they'll get to the cutting-edge stuff after wading through several
huge intro classes.

Let me just end by mentioning that I LOVE SCIENCE!!! and so do LOTS of
other undergraduates!

'99 BA (I hope), Harvard College

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