FALLONE: For the sake of knowledge

I’m not taking Sebastian Zeidler’s “Early Twentieth Century Art” course. I’m already taking five courses, and I have a seminar that meets on Wednesday at the same time. But I have no conflicts with the Monday lecture, and so I attended those classes during shopping period, each time finding myself completely enthralled. When it came time to finalize schedules, I actually felt a small pang of sadness as I deleted the class from my course list.

Yet somehow, the next Monday evening, I found myself sitting in that same lecture hall listening to Professor Zeidler speak. I don’t quite know why I did it, what drew me there. My name wasn’t on the class list, and I wasn’t in a section, so by any logical thought I had no right to be there. But then again, there was no rule saying I couldn’t be there. So I went — and just kept going. It’s nearly a month into the school year, and I haven’t missed a single Monday lecture. I take diligent notes and do as much of the online reading as I’m able. I’m learning so much — and I love it.

At first, when I decided to commit myself to this course, I felt uneasy, as if I were doing something wrong. I was doing work that nobody would ever know about and would never be seen on my transcript or resume. Choosing to do something for no reason other than my own intellectual growth somehow seemed to go against the way that things are done here.

But how could the pure desire to learn, especially at an institution like this one, be wrong? The true flaw, I realized, was not in my own thinking but rather within the collective mentality of Yale. We’re too focused on tangible results, on the grade and the resume and the bragging point, and not on the pursuit of knowledge simply for its own worth. And for members of a university, particularly an institution that more than any other should be dedicated to intellectual growth, this is a very problematic worldview.

There is little information available about auditing courses. It sometimes seems more like a secret, a “cheat,” rarely mentioned as an option by advisers even during shopping period. But Yale should encourage students to take advantage of the wealth of classes open for them to explore. We only have the ability to freely walk into any random Yale lecture for four years; then it will be lost forever.

Here, we are surrounded by world-class professors who chose to impart their knowledge on anyone who comes to listen each week. If our years at college are meant to be about accumulating as much knowledge as possible, then it is almost wasteful to simply choose four or five courses to attend. We could learn so much more by taking simply an hour out of every day to sit in on a few extra classes, even if we’re just trying an unknown subject for just one time. We still may graduate with just 36 credits, but we will have accumulated knowledge from nearly twice that many courses — knowledge that could certainly help us in our future careers but that will also help us become more well-rounded and thoughtful human beings.

Now I realize that large numbers of students beginning to “unofficially” audit classes could cause real problems, filling lecture halls and crowding out students who are taking the course for credit. The regulations about auditing an entire course are there for a reason, and it’s good to speak with the professor beforehand if you plan on sincerely attending every class. However, I see no harm in an interested student simply sitting in on a single lecture, unknown and unnoticed.

So, if you find you have a free afternoon, take a browse through the Blue Book. Find a course you’re curious about, a field that you’ve never explored, a professor whom you’ve heard is excellent. And then head to class proudly, like the true Yalie that you are — a scholar ready to learn and discover something new. And if it’s a Monday evening, come by Loria and drop in on Professor Zeidler’s lecture. I’ll be there.

Emma Fallone is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at emma.fallone@yale.edu.

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