Tuesday, January 6, 2015

High School v College: Stakes

The new quarter started yesterday. My schedule is somewhat harder this quarter: mechanics, ordinary differential equations, writing (the rhetoric of archaeology), environmental literacy, and Engineers for a Sustainable World. New classes, new professors, same school, same dorm, same extracurrics for the most part, same friends for the most part. I'm not used to having the first day of school feeling in January; I suppose it will feel even stranger in April.

With academic stuff starting up again, I may feel inclined to let the long term stuff get put off, so I will leave this line here to say that if I don't send out those emails to professors that I said I would, then that is a shame and I have no right to complain about anything. Also I want to declare my major as soon as I can.

This term I think I will actually realize what people mean when they say the quarter system moves quickly. I'm looking forward to it, now that I've worked a little of the confused-freshman-ness out of my system.

The important thing is to fear complacency and to make great things. Or maybe just good things; I don't know yet.


I met up with some of my best high school friends on Sunday, and it was great just to hang out with them and catch up. We went through our usual haunts along our town's main street, talking about whatever.

High school is still too recent for me to comment on it extensively, but some things still come to mind.

My old high school is going to the dogs, given what I have heard. The new principal has some policies which make absolutely no sense to me, and while it is easy to take potshots at school administrators, I honestly do not see how anyone could thrive in the environment that they are creating. Good teachers are leaving in droves, and meanwhile the school population is going to skyrocket with the growth along the Peninsula. I am glad to have gotten out when I did, and I am concerned for the younger cohorts.

We had to reflect on our previous writing experiences today in my writing class, and I realized that I did not enjoy the first three years of high school English. Part of that was me and my bad attitude; part of that was the teachers, with whom I clashed (sophomore English especially); and part of that was the way the class was taught. Formulaic, cookie cutter, five paragraph Jane Schaffer essays--the kind that was painful to write and painful to read. I get that at those levels it may be worth it to instill some discipline and some structure, but it chafed. Maybe some handholding is necessary, but getting your hand crushed in a vice of inane outlines and narrow prompts makes it difficult to write anything of value.

After a little space, I think I have more empathy for my maligned teachers than I used to. It must be difficult to teach writing to a class of thirty students, given how individual every person is. The volume of material to get through must be insane. At the same time, I am still a bratty teenager who resents having had to write five paragraph essays on a boring prompt for a book which the class made dead to me.

Practically every senior I know cannot wait to get out of high school. And why not? College is far better. I hope I never stop thinking that, never stop being grateful for the education I am making, and also never stop searching for more, for ways to go beyond classes and make something of myself.

Yesterday, the Energy Seminar screened a documentary about the Solar Car Project, which is insanely cool. Mad respect for those people. A student can only really take part in one competition team, I think, and I'm glad that I chanced upon the poster for Seismic Design Team because this is one thing in common between high school and college: the extracurrics in which you build or create stuff in a team are the ones that are the most valuable in terms of skills built, friends made, results earned.

The Solar Car people brought up a point: in a competition team, the stakes are a lot higher. There is no curve, no partial credit, no bumping up a percentage. It works or it doesn't, it performs or it fails. You have more responsibility and you cannot hide your shortcomings. What you do, how well you do it, matters because other people, probably people you care about, are counting on you and the success of endeavor as a whole is contingent upon your contribution.

You can BS your homework but you can't BS a tower.

I remember at some point in high school I said that I wanted my future job to be important enough that there would be serious repercussions if I did it poorly. And then we all laughed because the skill that high school teaches most consistently is the ability to produce BS.

What I'm getting at is that high school is for the most part fake. Busy work, playing house, spinning your wheels--pick your poison. College is not perfect but at least classes hold you to a higher standard of responsibility and competence. And building something that you'll actually use, whether on a team or in your work, is a way for reality to hold you accountable for your work.

People can be very lazy. I am a fine example of that. But people, including me, want to do real, valuable, interesting stuff with our time. (And what do we have, but time?)

In terms of the education system, college has a lot more opportunity (product of number of opportunities and how much each opportunity offers; or, you know, the integral) for that than high school. And with that, I will go to class.

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