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Time enough for learning

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As the semester draws to a close, now is a good time to take a moment and think back on what it is that we’ve learned over the past few months. That is why we’re here after all. For myself, I have learned small lessons in how to manage my time, slowly learning what works, and what doesn’t for me. I am also starting to get a handle on my physical health, and I hope to nurture my mental health as well in the near future.

I am proud to say that I am doing better this year than last fall, which was a low point in my academic career. I failed a course for the first time in my life then. The pressure and the stress finally got to me and I cracked. Since then, I have been clawing my way out of that hole. I managed to recover my grades last spring, and as far as I can tell, I am managing to keep it together this fall. However, it is an uphill battle, and the jury is still out for me this semester. The next few days will be crucial, for me as well as for many students, since this time of year is when final projects are due. In a way, it is even worse than final exams, since at least then we might get a breather before taking the final plunge, and then going into the holiday season which has its own worries and tasks to be done.

Sometimes I worry that I have less energy and motivation than most people, because I find it so difficult to meet the expectations that are demanded of me. But then I hear the complaints from my fellow students about their burdens, and how they too are often flying by the seat of their pants. The teachers do not complain, at least in front of students, but I see the evidence of their unmanageable workload as well. Sometimes it takes weeks for an assignment to get marked, and until then, I have no idea how well I am doing. The teachers have less work to do on each assignment, but they must go over every student’s work in each of their classes. It adds up. I wonder if they too begin to resent attending class, seeing it as a waste of time when they could be doing more important things. Namely, homework.

Has anyone stopped to wonder: is university supposed to be like this? In our conversations with each other we take it in stride, saying “That’s student life.” University is supposed to be a place of learning, and learning is supposed to be an invigorating and enriching experience. Instead, it feels like the exact opposite. I feel as if university is slowly draining my life away. With each passing season, I feel a little weaker and do a little more poorly than before. My thoughts become clouded, and my personality begins to fade. It feels like I am literally losing my mind.

One of my teachers is baffled why students of today are not nearly as active as students in the 1960s and ‘70s, the age of counterculture and the civil rights movement. This is a problem that deserves a detailed answer, which I may give another time. However, I would say one of the main reasons is sheer exhaustion. Between the huge course loads, financial worries, and other crises great and small weighing on our minds, we barely have enough free time and energy to keep ourselves alive and sane and fulfil our duties. Cultivating relationships or hobbies is often beyond us, let alone trying to change the world.

Yes, it is theoretically possible to accomplish all our course work within the time allotted and to the highest possible quality. However, this assumes that we can and will devote all of our spare time to it. We are human beings, not machines, and we occasionally need time to think our own thoughts and do what makes us happy to stay healthy. In any event, we all have work that needs to be done that has nothing to do with school. I do not think that our academic system is really taking this into account. We have come to accept workloads that most people struggle with because we have come to view it as normal and necessary.

The purpose of education is to make our citizens independent, engaged, intelligent, and love learning. If that is truly the goal of our educational system, it is failing hideously. What will become of us if every person who runs the gauntlet of primary, secondary, and post-secondary education comes out of it a withered husk? I fear that many of us will find out first-hand. We need to step back and ask ourselves whether the work we do is truly necessary for the sake of learning, instead of just assuming it is, as we have been for too long. We are not lazy, and we are not weak. The best skills, the strongest motivation, and the finest tools and materials will still count for naught if too much is demanded too soon.

Image: Adrian Sampson/Flickr

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