College is Upside Down

After our final this afternoon I asked one of my students,

How did your semester go?

His disappointing answer was,

I don’t know yet, nobody’s turned in final grades yet.

A few minutes later I was in a campus office where a staff mom was telling me about her high school senior son’s big boating competition this weekend. They were traveling up to some lake for a solar powered boat competition. Her son and his team had spent months building a solar power system, batteries to charge, and a motor to drive. They CNC milled the steering wheel of the boat. Regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s competition, this is an incredible victory.

  • A college student had to wait for a numerical printout from a bureaucratic headquarters to know what the value of the last 4 months of his life had been.
  • A high school student, before the race results, already knew the satisfaction of tackling a major project and working with a team to overcome all obstacles and complete their project.
drawing of 3 students with headsets having their brains programmed for calculus
College in 2037, by Karen Luau

There’s an old movie about police helicopters in Los Angeles called Blue Thunder. The film includes a discussion about measuring one’s sanity in which the late Warren Oats riposts,

What do you use to measure yours, a dip stick?

To some degree, this is what college has become, not an intrinsic experience of achieving meaningful project goals, but a detached, out of body experience where you work for 4 months at a time, only to wait for Brotman Hall (the administration building at Long Beach State) to read some academic dip stick and tell you how successful or not your last 4 months has been.

Can you think of a more hollow, detached, meaningless college experience!?

No wonder some students would rather be anywhere but here.

How did we allow a quest for knowledge to become an obsession over intrinsically meaningless points and grades?

How do we pull back from this precipice of meaninglessness to rediscover the value and power of a college experience? How do we move past our obsession with points and grades and on to a focus on meaningful projects, the celebration of successes, and the analysis of failures?

How do we make college fun again?

pencil drawing of a person using a remote control to instruct a robot to do homework on a computer
The College Experience in 2037 by Norma Garcia

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