Thursday, November 26, 2009


"Ridding the Planet of the Scourge That Is Breathing and Upright Turkeys"

Sometimes I get all ranty on my students. This happens, in particular, when they kvetch about having to take classes "that don't have anything to do with what I'm going into"--although, were they at the keyboard, that sentiment would read more like "taht dont have any thing to with WHat im goin in to."

Whenever they act all put out at having to take a range of classes, at having to study things they have no interest in, at wasting their time in classes like history, political science, and psychology when they just want to be nurses,

I have to clench my slapping hands firmly to my sides.

Every now and then, if I'm able to temper my reaction, I attempt thought correction (which is the agenda of every leftist Ivory Towered college professor, according to the Fox Newsian segment of the population). Calming my voice, I venture a, "You know, I viewed every class I ever took as an opportunity more than a burden. I always really try to remember that education, in any setting, on any subject, for any reason, is to be treasured. Specifically, if you are lucky enough to be in college, you shouldn't start complaining that you are asked to take college classes. Of course, all of this is hard to see when you're in the midst of it, so let me put it in more practical terms. Studies show that most people end up changing careers 5-7 times in their working lives. Thus, it is in your best interest to get the broadest base of education possible, so that you leave college equipped to take on any possible type of job that might put itself in front of you in the next 35 years. Certainly, you need very specific classes to become a nurse/phlebotomist/massage therapist/auto mechanic/firefighter. But what happens when your body gives out, or the economy becomes bad, and suddenly you are face with a change in career? What if you've only ever had phlebotomy-related classes? How are you going to sell books/dig graves/start a company/substitute teach/manage an office? More than knowing how to draw blood for the rest of your life, you need to know how to talk to people, how to communicate, how to think critically, how to analyze possibilities and pitfalls. See, the whole point here, with this college gig, is to lay down a foundation that can support you through all of life's vagaries."

And then I slap them.

With very small, gentle, invisible hands.

Here's the thing, though: while I believe all of the above rant quite vehemently these days, the truth is that when I was a college student, I could get all pissy about classes, too. In my defense, I will note I went to a liberal arts college, so the entire nature of my degree was broadly foundational. Moreover, it wasn't that I was averse to the information in the classes I was required to take; it was that my brain was too busy processing Long Island Iced Teas to be up to the task of calculatin' and hypothesizin'.

As a result, I still did my best to avoid classes in the maths and sciences--them mean classes that could hurt me.

However, the college hinged its degree awarding upon my having completed a variety of classes from all disciplines, so eventually, I had to sign up for numbers and theories and stuff, which seemed a shame when I still had Jane Austen to read.

Fortunately, I wasn't alone in my recoil from hardcore math and science; in fact, I was in such good company that the college had been forced to create and offer watered-down versions of some classes in these disciplines. I took Math 10 one semester...we connected dots and made stars and stuff, and at some point, we may have added up all our dots and stars, which, since we got to use our fingers, was a breeze, so long as the answer never exceeded ten. Hey! Math was fun!

Fulfilling the science requirement was infinitely more taxing. I thought I had it sussed when I discovered a class nicknamed "Physics for Poets" existed. Hell, yea, methunk. I could dig a class where "torque" and "vector" were part of the iambic pentameter making up a sonnet. So great was my excitement, I bought pencils, friends. I bought pencils.

But. Hmmm. How to put it?

One time John McEnroe hollered at a line judge that he was "the pits of the world." I would like to assert here that Nikola Tesla might have been a line judge. 'Cause physics was the pits of the world.

Now, I already knew physics blew the shutters right off my weathered Queen Anne of a brain. In high school, fast tracked in all subjects, I had taken honors physics. My teacher then had served as an artillery sergeant in Korea. As I sat in his classroom, holding my head in my hands, stifling a wail, he would march up and down the aisles, whacking desks and hollering about how only dummies couldn't get this stuff. Clearly a dummy, I started going in before school to have him work through the problems with me. It never helped. I remained a cringing, cowering mass of confusion. But he did smile once when I make a joke about my having "zero capacitance," so I called it a victory.

Woefully, the college physics experience bore out my college experience. While the professor was a good man, he lived on Planet Throbbing Brain, unaware that we peons down in the mines, attempting to extract his brilliance, were gasping for air.

Full disclosure requires that I also admit I took the class Pass/Fail, so all I needed was a "D" to get through. At first, I aimed for my "D" by skipping lots of classes, which did the trick quite neatly.

But then we had the first test, and its return marked the single time in my academic career that I held and beheld the letter "F."

Muttering a word that started with "F," I realized I had to start cranking, start going to class, start attending study groups, start reading the text book.

And I did. Even still, I was profoundly bewildered and lost. Fortunately, I became just enough less lost to randomly encounter a path labeled "D," and I made it through the class--a little closer to an ulcer, a little less buoyant, a little less certain I was a fan of this "take a wide range of classes" concept.

Leaving me faintly nauseous and listing slightly to the right, college physics was the worst experience of my educational life.

Until I took Statistics.

But I'm not telling that story here. It's only twenty years in the past, and I'm just not ready yet.

The upshot of my story is this: it's Thanksgiving time; I don't like holidays; and at some point someone will probably ask me what I'm grateful for this year. Since my attitude is bad, it's best to have an answer prepared. A prepared answer will get me off the hook, and, with words pre-packaged, ready to trip off my tongue, I can sidestep the family strife that would ensue from me hollering, "None of your damn business!" or "How come you never ask me this in April? Or September?"

So here's what I've got, in the off chance we all end up going 'round the table and forcing out statements of gratitude:

"I'm really, really thankful I'll never again have to take a college physics class. Now stuff that in your turkey and gobble it."

24 comments:

Chris said...

Sometimes physic help in life! haha

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Amen! I get cold sweats even reading the word "torque."

kmkat said...

I have used basic algebra in my life. Grokking statistics -- which is not necessarily what one gets from taking a statistic class -- is very useful in understanding how the world works. Physics has come in handy only when my mechanically inclined husband attempts to explain to me how something works. I have never needed calculus beyond the comfort of knowing it exists if someone else needs it.

My art history classes, however, gave me a nice background in European cultural history. Learning Greek and other mythologies help me understand religion. Three quarters of English lit reaffirmed my dislike for poetry. And learning a modicum of Spanish helped me order wine in a Madrid restaurant. Such is the value of a liberal education.

Jeni said...

OMG, are we maybe related? Your take on the courses you disliked matches mine almost to a tee -except my "hated" classes were Micro-Economics and yes, the dreadful Statistics. I graduated from Penn State and they have a requirement that each student MUST take 60 credits worth of classes in specific areas -so many in each particular area ya know. The Micro-economics was to me -still is -about the most useless subject ever invented. How much study does one have to put into if you have a large supply of an item, the price will drop and a low supply, prices will increase. I mean, really now! I felt fortunate that I got through that class with the damned D but had I taken the refresher maths I needed -remember I'd been away from Algebra one for over 30 years by the time I entered college -I might have been able to garner a C in that stinking class. The last question on the first exam was one that had to be answered using algebra and it had to be "set down" on the paper, showing your work. And I couldn't for the life of me remember a thing about algebra and how to do that problem. Ten minutes after leaving the class, I figured out the answer in my head but that still wouldn't have helped although a correct answer would have been worth 20 points and that 20 points was the difference in the end between a C and a D!
But I agree with the theory you laid out as to why a well-rounded education is truly a necessity. I probably would have taken some of the classes I had which counted towards my Gen Ed credits anyway -cause I do love Sociology stuff and especially History -but I'm glad, no that it's all over but the shouting, that I did have to take that stuff -just not the Econ junk!
(You should be here -a fly on the wall -sometime when I am trying to get this stuff through to the 17-year-old in the house. ARRGH! Totally drives me up the wall with her thought processes there and then, when I think about her even thinking about going to college, it makes my head spin. She sees no reason to read anything in the textbooks they pass out at the beginning of the school year unless the teacher makes them read a paragraph or two. Imagine not wanting to "read" a textbook and one that you have shelled out a small fortune to have in your hot little hands too, in order to get through a class? Boggles the mind, doesn't it? (I suggested to her that all the parents of kids in her classes should ask the school board to take those text books and request a refund or resell them as only slightly used, maybe just carried around the halls in school to look like a student should, ya know.)

tattytiara said...

I once bought a book that was essentially physics for dummies. I only got about half way through the first chapter, but I still have the scars on my brain to prove I got that far.

Becky Cazares said...

When I was in remedial math, lo these five semesters past, readying myself for the most beginning of college math courses, I found there was, indeed, one lower math class I wouldn't be allowed to take (being as how I was a business major). The one my remedial math professor lovingly referred to as "Math for Dance Majors." That's the one you took!

But luck evens out because I was subsequently fortunate enough to have Dr. Suzanne Delaney teach me Statistics, and, contrary to everything I'd been told about its horrors, she was able to make stats understandable to even a fifty-year-old brain. Clever woman. I will ever after remember that the true definition of an "outlier" is not just that little space at either end of the bell curve, but instead is a punk girl with spiked purple hair when compared to a perfect set of blonde cheerleaders!

And I will very usefully envision your invisible slap every time I hear a classmate bemoan the awful professor who has the nerve to expect them to attend class AND read the textbook in order to earn an A - many of them seem to think it is their birthright! Sigh.

Pam said...

Jocelyn, love your posts. I stay rivetted to the end.Read nearly to the end, when the corned silverside boiled over. True.Don't say the m word around me please. As a substitute teacher (yes it does pay to diversify), I shudder, as a former English major, when I'm told I'm taking a math or physics class.I'm pleased math phobia is taken seriously,sweaty palms,blank stares, I can relate.Please God, I think to myself as I collect the lesson plan,make it a math test,where "I'd like to help you but I can't", is a much more acceptable teaching response, than in an ordinary math or physics lesson.

geewits said...

My daughter is even worse than the students that "...will never use this..." She thinks she should be able to register, pay and show up to take the tests. Actually, her ideal is to just pay to take the final. She thinks having to actually go to class is stupid when she could just read the book and take the tests. What would you say to her?

Jazz said...

I managed to get out of Physics in college. But the year of physics I did in high school was hell. The only thing I remember from that class (I think it was physics, but maybe not) is that two cars meeting will pass each other at the speed of each car added. Unless of course they have a head on collision, which would be my preferred way of dealing with any calculation.

Susan said...

But think of how well rounded that physics class made you.

jess said...

I'm thankful for Jocelyn, and her enlightened thoughts on physics. I was so determined to avoid taking college physics that I just up an' dropped out.

Jim Berg said...

People are sometimes amazed, and sometimes scandalized, when I tell them I managed to get through college without taking Psychology. Or Physics. So, phttt on them.

Okay, plus I also wrote a new holiday-themed blog that I would like you to read, cause, like it has nothing to do with anything and you dont hafta grade. it.

flutter said...

the letter F is handy for the many words I use to express myself whilst preparing for all of life's vagaries

phd in yogurtry said...

Or ever have to take Calculus. I've seen that Calculus is required for many of our state's major universities. I break into a cold sweat thinking about that one.

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings said...

I understand the "having to take a class to pass to the next level" kind of thing....in college I took billiards. Yes. Billiards. And then walking .. just to get my freaking Journalism degree. I guess in Journalism it does hold true that you need a broad base of knowledge, even pool.

actonbell said...

Great post, as usual:) And boy, do I relate. After high school physics, I didn't dare take the subject again. I took two statistics courses, though, and both were a better experience than that college Astronomy course (taught by Uncle Fester. At nighttime), and the biology lab I had to drop out of because cutting up mice was making me ill.

Looking back, though, most of the courses I never used were fun experiences, and if I had endless time and money, I'd take Spanish, literature, and art history to my heart's content. These young people don't know what they'll be missing!

chelle said...

hehe gobble gobble!

secret agent woman said...

Wow, we weren't allowed to take classes pass/fail. I took the minimum math classes for my major, thinking I would never need it again. Karma came around in the form of three stats courses in grad school.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I wish I'd have taken physics--but I'm glad for what I did take, too, because, as you said, you never know.

monica said...

oh yes the young ones... strange thing they won't listen when we hollar about our young years... hm, one would expect them to listen to elderly experience like we did when we were young...! :o)

statistics REALLY sucks...

lime said...

oh my dear psychic sister...the maths, they did me in. let me just say that at the end of that class my frugal nature, which may have inclined me to sell back the testbook for a small fraction of its original cost, and my love of printed matter in general were trumped by my complete loathing of the subject matter and the horror of the experience. i burned my stats text in the driveway to cleanse myself from the experience.

lime said...

oh and here is the early post about the book burning.

lime said...

dangit...here

ds said...

Amen, sistah!! I too avoided math classes like the Plague in college--successfully too, as they were not required (would you believe I regret not having taken Calculus? I was terrified of the subject. Why does this happen to women? And to flip the coin why are so many guys afraid of literature, though not, I grant you, to the same a-hem degree). But I am a proud survivor of "Organic Chemistry for Dummies" which turned out to be fascinating, and of "Oceanography" which blessed me with my only D. A lesson in itself. So I hear you loud and clear.
Statistics?! (((shudder)))