Some thoughts on my experience at the University

Several days ago I saw a photo of people graduating from the University.  Apparently, its graduation time. 

It made me think back to when I went to the University. 

Sadly, these are not good memories for me.  I was not, in any way, impressed with the University.  In fact, I felt the University created an environment not suitable for learning.  What it created, in my opinion, is a factory of people with ready-made points of view and knowledge.  The University is nothing but a ‘packaging plant’, stuffing pre-fabricated ready-made knowledge into people’s heads and then packaging it with a degree.  Really, isn’t that what a degree is . . . fancy packaging for a ‘processed’ person?  This is primarily because the University turns out people who are supposed to go into the work force.  As a result, the University, really, is nothing but a processing plant for a ‘human machine’ to be used in the work force not unlike an automobile or a toaster.  In that sense, it is really no different than a factory.  That was my impression was then, and nothing I’ve seen so far has shown anything to the contrary. 

Of course, I know many University people who would deny that . . . and some who would support it . . .

Many years ago I went to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.  I think it was about 1989 or so.  I was there for 9 months and that was enough for me.  I was studying Psychology.  I was excited to go as I thought it would be a neat place to go.  I was brought up with the ‘scholarly ideal’ and looked forward to it as a high-point in my life.  I always thought the University experience would be a great time and one that would have great meaning to me.

This was not to be the case.

I had gone to the University after getting an Associate of Science degree in General Education (or at least I think that’s what it’s called???).  I got this from the Utah Technical College that was near my house (within several miles).  I had nothing but good experiences there and felt that it was a great learning environment.  This, as you’ll see below, was dramatically different from what I found at the University.

SOME EXPERIENCES

I had a number of not-so-good experiences at the University that, I think, are worth noting . . .

My first confrontation with the problems began almost immediately.  I had inquired, beforehand, about transferring my general ed credits to the University and they said they would be transferred.  Interestingly, I was told to do this by a number of people whose reasons why were, on reflection, a “warning” of the problems I would see at the University.  In general, the stance was to avoid taking classes at a University at all costs.  This is because of all the ‘crap’ that is at the University.  Many of the things I was “warned” about I would confront later on.  At the time, I didn’t take much credence to it.

Just weeks before I started classes I happened to go to the school counselor who said that I had to take a number of classes over again (which I had already taken for my General Ed degree) because of some thing or another.  This sort of made me mad as, originally, they told me I wouldn’t . . . now its changed all-of-a-sudden.  If I recall right, all the classes I had to take ended up adding to almost a year.  I seem to recall remarking “what was the point even getting a General Ed degree?”

Since I was going into psychology I took a number of psychology classes in psychology at the Utah Technical College.  As I said above, I had to take some of the exact courses over again.  One was basic psychology, I think it was.  At the Utah Technical College I got an A from this class.  At the University I got a C! 

How is that possible?

It was the same exact information . . . the same exact stuff!  I don’t recall it being that much different.  It was all review for me.  In fact, the subject matter was so familiar to me that it was almost boring.  The material I knew, but the questions on the exam seemed unusual and misleading and sometimes unlcear and confusing.  I talked with quite a few other students who were perplexed by some of the questions as well.  To me, it would be like me going to grade school and taking a test on writing upper and lower case letters and getting about 1/3 wrong.  It didn’t make any sense.  This would not be the first time I questioned the exam and the manner of grading.

When I began to see the manner of the exams . . . and the resulting grade . . . I was so startled that I jumped back and thought, “what’s going on here?”  This began an inquiry about how the University ‘worked’ that went on the whole time that I was at the University.  I went around asking people about things that were going on there and why things were this way. 

One of the things I found was that there were great ‘power plays’ being performed by the University.  The University has ‘power’ over the students.  Because of this they ‘wave’ grades, graduation, and degrees over them, making them do whatever they want.  It made many University students act, and behave, like marionettes (in fact, that’s a trait of a University student to me).  In fact, a large part of the ‘University mentality’, as I’d find out, involved this sense of ‘power’.  The University demonstrated its ‘power’ over the students while they were there.  When the students graduated they, in turn, would display this ‘power mentality’ which they learned at the University. I can often tell if someone graduated from the University by the way they display this ‘power mentality’.  Its something I’ve grown to despise.

Many people seemed to just ‘accept it’ . . . they didn’t have a choice!  Many people I talked to had a ‘just endure it’ type of mentality.  But there were also people who saw it as something like an ‘initiation’ into the ‘University club’.  In so being ‘initiated’ one became part of an ‘elite’ who could look down on other people.  I also saw others who saw all the ‘University crap’ and ‘power plays’ as a “real education”.  To them it taught how the ‘real world’ was, how it worked, and how to endure it.  The fact that these mentalities and explanations exist show, and reveal, that there were extensive ‘University games’ that were being played at the University . . . it was one big game of ‘power’, ‘elitism’, and ‘status’.

But, from what I saw from most of the people, it looked more like a major damper on people and on learning itself.  It seemed almost self-defeating to me.  The more I looked the more I saw that the University was not about learning or education but about social status and money.  Why did people go there anyways? . . . To make money or for some form of social status or prestige.  In the whole time I was at the University I do not believe I saw anyone there who was truly interested in learning.  It became clear that the University, learning, and education is nothing but a means to greater social status and money . . . that, to me, makes up the “University Mentality”.  In fact, I’d say that the fact of this mentality is the only ‘sure’ thing I learned at the University.  In my opinion, this mentality degraded education and learning, delegating them to nothing but ‘stepping stones’ to some other thing.   What this means is that, at the University, I saw a degraded from of learning and education.   

The education and learning I saw at the technical college far exceeded and surpassed anything I saw at the University.  I think this is because people were not ‘reaching for the stars’ like at the University.  They had a more ‘down-to-earth’ mentality, of doing not-so-glamorous jobs for a not-so-glamorous wage.  As a result, any learning or education there was not as ‘corrupted’ by ‘high motives’.  But, the down side of it is that it often went too low and there was often a tendency for people to have a ‘cheap’ attitude about things. 

But, whether you went to a trade college or a University, it was clear that everything was about getting a job.  In my opinion, this makes all ‘learning’ and ‘education’ a form of ‘trade knowledge’, whether it be knowing how to weld, do carpentry, practice medicine, or be a social worker.  It became clear that learning, nowadays, was not learning for its own sake . . . which, to me, is what constitutes ‘education’ . . . but learning a trade or occupationWherever I went, that’s all I saw.  I used to joke that “the University is nothing but a ‘hi-class trade college’ “. 

And it had all the hi-class stuff too . . . along with the hi-class problems.

I saw too many people (which included me) who spent most of our time scrambling to do things, where everything was a desperate fight to do what they required so we can ‘pass’ the course.  We spent so much of our time doing what they wanted, and required us to do, that it put a complete halt to learning.   I found that I spent more time doing ‘stuff’ to make things ‘passable’ than anything else . . . my god, you better do it the way the Professor wants!  Some Professors even told us that:  “if you don’t do it my way you will not pass this course”.  Some of the older students would even give us new students ‘hints’ of how to ‘please’ a certain Professor and do things the way they wanted to help us get a good grade. 

I can recall being stunned how many students seemed ‘stressed out’ and ‘in a frenzy’, doing whatever they can to pass.  Many of them had this look of ‘desperation’, of ‘I don’t know how I’m going to pass’, and endless scrambling.  It was often a look of ‘hurry!  hurry!’

This is not a good environment to learn.

At the end of the courses I found I learned, and retained, almost nothing.  I often walked away wondering if I learned anything at all.  Even now, the classes I took at the University seem more like a blur than anything else.  I’m not even sure what classes I took.

I talked to many other people who felt the same way.  Quite a few admitted that they weren’t learning anything . . . they were too busy dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s the way the teacher wants!  A couple of them, I think, left because they were sick of it.

And, remember, this is after I spent about 3 years at the Utah Technical College where I learned and did so much!  It was like going from a lush garden to a desert . . . a desert where life was a continual struggle to pass.   

To me, this was unbelievable. 

And then there were those people who said that this ‘struggle’ was so great – the great learning about life! – as if it was everything.  Remember . . . the ‘great initiation’. 

I was stunned when people would almost spit when I mentioned that I had been to the Utah Technical College, as if it was this low-grade place, whereas the University was this great place . . . of “real” learning.  This is just another example of how the ‘University mentality’ is about social status.  Since I went to a trade college that makes me low-grade.  Poor stupid me! 

This ‘University is king of the mountain mentality’ I’d confront again and again.

I got into a conversation with one of my Professor’s about why things were harder here at the University than they were at trade school and he told me that he wasn’t supposed to tell me this, but that the Administration required the Professor’s to make things harder than they are as they are supposed to weed people out. 

To tell you the truth, I actually suspected this.  Why?  Because the exams were often graded over absurd and ridiculous things, which were like an endless nick-picking on a scale I’ve never seen before.  This didn’t seem ‘normal’.  I used to joke that they would have a question on the publication date of a book referenced in the bibliography or who the author thanked in the preface of the textbook.  That is not far from the truth too.

All this, frankly, devastated my respect for the University.

I began to ask myself this question:  “Do I want to go to a place like this?”

I knew my answer:  NO. 

In some classes, you couldn’t even talk to the Professors.  There were some I never even spoke to.  Interestingly, I used to joke that they should videotape the Professor and sell copies to the students.  This way we could watch it when we wanted.  We wouldn’t even have to go to class!  I was surprised to find that they would be doing similar things some years later.

I particularly grew to dislike many of the female Professors . . . the worst were the ones with PhD’s.  Arrogant and snobbish beyond belief . . .  they have PhD’s remember . . . they have the power!  Remember:  social status . . . the University way . . . the University mentality!  Even to this day, I hear of a female Professor, or PhD, and my reaction is “ughhh!”  And, oh my god . . . little miss feminists too.  I’d sit and listen to how horrible females have been all these centuries . . . and how superior they were too . . . and how us guys were horrible people.  The only Professors I had any good conversations with were some of the guys.   I think I would have really of grew to like many of them if it wasn’t for all the University crap.

Then, in one of my classes, one of the teachers told us that he had just got back from some sort of a school of Psychology meeting back east.  I guess they talked about the issues involving the school of Psychologies in the U.S.  They said that, with what they saw, the statistics were really bad to get into the school of Psychology in the whole U.S.  He said that, in many Universities in the U.S., there were so many people that they were picking names out of a hat to determine who would get in.  They told us that if we couldn’t pull a 3.8 GPA we should go into another field.  And, they said, even this was not enough.  We need to do a whole messload of extracurricular activities if we wanted to be looked at seriously . . . another example of all the University nonsense . . . my God!  I can’t remember for certain but it seems that the national average, as I found out later, was something like 10 or 15 percent.  If I recall right the University of Utah school of Psychology was something like 5 percent! 

It was then that I said that I was not going to go into Psychology.  To put it simply, I’m not going through all this ‘University crap’ for those types of statistics.

As a result, I look into Psychiatry, which requires a Medical degree.  This is something I considered doing before.  I went to the Pre-Med counselor and I decided to take classes that might lead me in that direction, though I was still doubtful about going to the University at all.  I think, looking back on it now, that I needed something to give me faith that this was a good place to go and I was hoping another direction would be more fruitful.  As a result, I decided to give another direction a try.  I took a classes related with pre-med.  One of them was General Chemistry . . . a class I will never forget!

There were about 100 in the class to begin with.  I don’t think I ever once talked to the Professor!  What blew me away was the first exam.  I thought I knew the material.  I went to class, read the chapter, but when I went to the exam I think I only knew how to answer about 2/3 of the questions.  I had no idea what the other questions were even about!  I ended up getting, I think, a C, or even a D.  It was low. 

I was stunned . . . yet again!

What is going on here? 

Naturally, I inquired.  First of all, I looked through the chapter and notes and found nothing related to the questions.  I found that many other students didn’t know what the questions were about either.  It made me feel good when several other students were as disgusted as I was. 

If I recall right, in a class of about 100 only 2 got A’s and, I was told by someone, that they had been involved in Chemistry somehow so they weren’t ‘newbies’ to it like the rest of us. 

Thats nice.  Only ‘experienced’ people can get good grades.  Great!

I think about 10 got B’s.  There may have been 20 or 30 with C’s and over half was D’s or failed, if I recall right. 

Unbelievable!

The general sense, which was even implied by the Professor, was that it was OUR fault. 

I disagreed.

With over half the class with D’s or failed it seems that SOMEONE WASN’T TEACHING RIGHT, at least to me.  Something isn’t being taught right when many of us don’t even know what the questions were about on the exam! 

This really put me into another inquiry.  One of the interesting things I found out was that some teachers put questions from the next chapter into the exam as if to see who the ‘good students’ were. 

What?  What kind of a place is this?  Having questions on material that were not taught???!!!

Unbelievable!

If I recall right, I looked and found that some of the questions were in the next chapter.

It was then that I KNEW that I DO NOT want to be a part of this.

I decided to quit the University . . . one of the best things I ever did.

Getting out of that place was a good thing for me.  I felt I was no longer bogged down by endless nonsense and “I better do this” or “I better do that” all the time.  It was like I was free. 

But, it still didn’t end.  About 6 or so months later I got a letter saying I had to pay for one semester.  I told them that I had withdrawn before the ‘final’ date.  They said I hadn’t.  This started a month long inquiry . . . yet again! . . . to sort this thing out.  I had to have a Student Advisor, who was a Professor, and who looked into my ‘case’.  He looked at it and told me that he was going to advise them that he felt that I had done everything properly, to the best of my ability, and that not even he could find the statement they were referring to.  It seems like they said there was some statement somewhere that somehow said that what I claimed was wrong.  I don’t know what it said . . . I’ve never seen it . . . neither did the Student Advisor either, I don’t think.  If I recall right, I ended up having to pay a $35.00 “fine” and got a letter describing my “negligence”.  I actually wrote a nasty letter in reply but I never sent it.  What would it do anyways?  I just wanted this whole University business to end. 

And so, from beginning to end, the University was filled with nonsense and ridiculousness.

I went back to the Utah Technical College, which was now called the Salt Lake Community College. 

It was like a breath of fresh air.  I could actually learn and do something!  There were no ‘power plays’, Professors didn’t hover us like a god, we weren’t scrambling to pass, I could talk to my teachers (many of who I got to know quite well), and so on.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

As I said above, my impression of the University were not good.  It was a big disappointment.  This is for a number of reasons:

  • The University did not appear to me to be a place of learning.  There were too many other ‘things’ that got in the way.  Also, the attitude of a lot of people is that it was only a ‘stepping stone’ to somewhere else, usually involving money and status.
  •  It seemed more like it ‘processed human machines’ for the work force.  It seemed very cold and inhuman to me, like a factory.
  • There were too many ‘power plays’ at the University.  Too many things around the University revolved around forms and displays of power, from the exams to the weeding out of students to the female Professors with PhD’s (they have the power!).  I often got the impression that a big part of the University was demonstrating power over the students, by the Professors, the Administration, and anything else associated with it. 
  • The themes of money and social status were too prevalent and permeated everything. 
  • It was while at the University that I began to see how grades were not accurate.  Remember that they were deliberately making exams difficult to weed people out, they had questions on exams that we were never taught (such as I described in chemistry), and such.  It’s like they could manipulate the grading system however they wanted.  This began an inquiry into grades and their accuracy.  This happens to be a form of psychological measuring and, remember, I was in psychology.  It just so happens that psychological measurement was a field that I was very interested in.  TO SEE THE DELIBERATE MODIFICATIONS OF EXAMS AND GRADING TO SUIT THEIR PURPOSE, AND THE DISTORTIONS THAT THEY DID, WAS APPALING TO ME.  TO SIT AND WATCH THEM MANIPULATE PEOPLE’S GRADES LIKE IT WAS SOME SORT OF A TOY WAS UNACCEPTABLE TO ME.  EXAMS AND GRADES ARE A FORM OF PSYCHOLOGICAL MEASUREMENT.  THERE CANNOT BE ANY DISTORTION FOR THEM TO BE ACCURATE!   The manipulations of exams and grades that they did were PROOF of how grades are not accurate and can’t be relied upon . . . but it was one of the primary ways they maintained their ‘power’.  This gave the whole “grading thing” an appearance of a ‘game’, which I believe it is.  I wrote an article in this blog which describes some of what I found out called “Thoughts on how grades really don’t measure anything”. 
  • Frankly, I really didn’t get anything out of it.  I actually learned very little, which stunned me.  Like I said, I wasn’t busy learning because I was too busy trying to pass.  That’s not the same thing.  A person can’t learn when you’re trying to do all this other stuff at the same time.

I’ve often wondered if I just happened to go to the wrong University.  From what I have seen this is not really true.  Most certainly, there are variations, but most Universities have these qualities.  The ones with the most ‘power’ and ‘prestige’ are the worst as, remember, a lot of the ‘University mentality’ is based in ‘power’, ‘prestige’, and social status.  Where these are dominant, there the University will be worst. 

I was different than most people, I think, in that I didn’t have to be there and I didn’t need their degree.  This “need” is how the University gains power over students and it forced the students to find ways to tolerate the crap of the University.  But, because I didn’t have this need, I wasn’t all that willing to take their ‘crap’.  As a result, I was able to ‘stand back and take a look’.  This is something most University students can’t do.  Regardless of what happens, they ‘have to’ endure and justify everything.  I didn’t have to.  This created a different perspective in me, and made me see things from another angle.  I think I saw the ‘University game’ more clearly . . . as well as its ridiculousness and its destructiveness to education.  I saw the influence of ‘power’, money, and social status and how it created an unusual condition that I’ve never seen before.  I saw that it was not about education and learning and that it is, really, nothing but a ‘hi-class trade college’ bogged down with ‘power’ and people seeking money and social status.

A PERSONAL ELEMENT

My experience at the University taught me that I viewed ‘learning’ and ‘education’ differently, apparently, than everybody else.  I found that my whole perception of it all was unlike everyone elses.

To me, ‘learning’ and ‘education’ are very sacred-like and precious.  They were personal and reflected a ‘love’ for things.  To see ‘learning’ and ‘education’ turned into a mundane common things was appalling to me.  To see all this turned into the service of ‘money’ and ‘status’ was, frankly, almost too much for me.  This shows how ‘precious’ I tend to view ‘learning’ and ‘education’. 

Its like I viewed it in the way of the old Universities, when they taught religious beliefs and such, which were sacred and went ‘beyond’ human things (like money and status).  Now, as I said, the Universities have become nothing but a hi-class trade school, teaching people how to do a specific occupation.

The technical college was more ‘in tune’ to these feelings of mine.  I must admit, though, that I did not find anyone there, either, who had the same feelings I had.  It seems that what made the technical college so much better was that it was not as ‘corrupt’ as the Universities.  This is because it had more of a humility to it.  In so doing ‘learning’ and ‘education’ was looked at more simply and without the interference of all these other ‘high and mighty’ things that the University had.  Because of this, ‘learning’ and ‘education’ was more natural, more simple, more honest, more pure, and more human than at the Universities.  I even think of the conversations I had with students at the trade college versus the University. 

What a difference? 

The University student, generally, had this quality of ‘trying to make the grade’, of the endless ‘University scramble’, of trying to ‘conform’, almost snobbish at times.  The trade college student was very matter-of-fact, everyday, and casual.  They weren’t trying to ‘scramble’ to pass or sound ‘convincing’ so they would be ‘accepted’.  As a result, it was more natural.  I was really impressed with that, particularly when I returned after I had been at the University.

This humility, I’ve found, is one of the qualities needed for ‘learning’ and ‘education’.  Without it, there is no ‘learning’ or ‘education’.  What is ‘learning’ and ‘education’ but a recognition of ones lack of knowing, of ones insufficiency, that one is incomplete . . . in short, of having humility?

But, even though the technical college had this quality it was still ‘trade’ knowledge.  It became clear to me that what I was after could not be found in either the University or trade college.  It’s for this reason, really, that I abandoned them both and went my own way. 

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