Being a university student myself, I still often wonder about alternative education, about enabling creativity in individuals and allowing them to forge their own path. For so much of my school life half of what I was learning I knew I would never pursue, so many wasted days on subjects I didn’t even like but I had to get a good grade in so I could go to a good university where, again, there would be subjects I had to study that I didn’t want to pursue, such as the mandatory humanities electives.
The defense for students learning things they don’t want to is to supposedly create “well-balanced people with a wide range of skills.” When you peel back the surface, however, you easily become insulted. Why would the education system assume that I am uncultured, that I don’t already enjoy literature and a few small studies of history in my spare time? Why do they think I should be forced to? I actually do quite a bit of research about humanitarian causes, philosophy, and bioethics on my own time and someday I do plan to write my own essays on these subjects, where I won’t have to be restricted to 1500 words plus or minus 50, thank you very much. I also play piano, another pursuit that I didn’t take much formal education in.
Teachers and educational curriculum drafters may protest, “Ah, that may be the case with you, but there are some uncultured folks out there who don’t pursue these things in their spare time.” To that I say: so what? You would rather them get 50s and 60s in a subject because they don’t like it and pull down their overall average instead of allowing them to just take courses that they like and are actually good in? You can’t force “culture” on people; it is offensive and elitist. And maybe – gasp – these “uncultured” folks may do a lot more good for the people that you talk about in social science classes by donating and volunteering rather than writing essays about their plight.
I am musing on this, of course, because I myself have been struggling with writing an essay for my history elective in the past few days when I would much rather prefer playing with imaginary numbers in a corner with my whiteboard. It’s an essay on a book about the development of property rights in imperial British colonies and the United States. It was interesting learning about the land rush, about how settlers, defiant against the state, raced to claim land for themselves. That is, it was interesting for all of the first 20 pages until it droned on about crown grants, loan farms, allodial tenure, blah blah blah…and yet, this course counts for part of my GPA. I know, I know, maybe I should have researched the electives more when I was deciding on them, but, to be honest, history, arts, the humanities – they will always be boring to me if I’m getting graded on how well I learn them, no matter how articulate and eloquent the professor. Just saying.