Why school teaches us not to learn

Last semester I had a 13-23 page research paper, a mid term, a three-page paper, a five-page paper and 214 pages of reading due during the fifth week. I wanted to be a good student and plan ahead, so I scheduled hour by hour all that I had to do in the next three weeks. Everything should have worked out great, right? Wrong.

I learned that if we students try to do things the “right” way, we end up losing out. Through the insanity of this tremendous workload I discovered why most students work, not to learn the material but for the grade on their transcript.

During those three weeks I had to read roughly a page a minute if I wanted to finish every assignment by the time it was due. I found that I could not finish most of my reading and comprehended little of it. I wrote papers as fast as possible so I would not fall behind.

I became disheartened because my goal to read well and write papers that reflected my hard work was looking farther and farther away. I was missing out on both a quality education and valuable time with friends and family. I simply could not stuff all that I had to do in the amount of waking time there was during the week, so everything was cut short. I barely had energy for small talk over meals.

Most students say, “Are you crazy? Why did you try to do everything?” If I were to follow the general student strategy, I would have simply dropped most of my reading, stayed up until four or five a.m. during the crunch week and thoroughly labored on my papers and tests so they would look impressive. To translate, this means, “The grades are what matter. So write impressive papers and memorize the information for tests. They don’t test whether you’ve read or not; they test whether it looks like you’ve read. So make it look that way!”

I found that the harder I tried to practice the ideal habits of a good student, the more the system worked against me. Instead of being able to spend time with my reading, I was forced to shove a large amount into my brain and try to get a vague picture of what was trying to be communicated.

Instead of writing clear, well-edited papers, I wrote poorly written ones dappled with error because I had not spent quality time with the reading. Instead of being actively involved in my classes and retaining information from lectures, I was exhausted in each class, or my mind wandered. The sad part is, I wanted to do all the things that professors advise – I simply could not.

I am not very different than most of my fellow students on campus; many have had it much worse than I. I have a close friend who, during finals week, had to turn in 11 papers adding up to 72 pages of writing, with three finals to take and three hours of sleep a night. Another of my close friends had two 13-page papers, two five-page papers, two five-minute speeches, one final and three to four hours of sleep every night during finals week.

Many of us don’t want to work only for the grades. We students are memorizing material the night before tests and forgetting everything after the semester’s over and are becoming skilled at writing papers that sound like we’ve read. The workload is so overwhelming that we are forced to take such an approach. It’s not that we are bad students – it’s that we’ll flunk out of college if we spend the time to actually learn.

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