If you’ve ever seen a high school yearbook, you’ve undoubtedly come across the quote attributed to Mark Twain: “I’ve never let schooling get in the way of my education.” Sometimes, this seems to categorize Yalies’ feelings about classes all too well.
As a friend of mine once put it, “going to classes is the price we pay for being at Yale.” (As another friend pointed out — no, actually, $50,000 is the price we pay for going to Yale.) Yalies are happy, and we are so proud about being happy, and all that happiness comes from all these awesome, fulfilling, other-than-sitting-in-a-library things we do. Which is great! I love my friends and activities too. But when I hear friends complain about section jerks (more commonly known by a slightly more graphic term), I get frustrated. It can seem like we have forgotten that we are primarily students.
I’m not talking here about the kid who dominates section or a seminar with nothing to say. That person sucks, all agreed. Don’t say something unless you are genuinely excited to say it. Done.
No, I’m talking about the other kid, the freshman who shows up with his reading all highlighted and annotated and with accompanying notes — the kid who asks clarification questions a minute before section is supposed to end, as if maliciously not realizing nobody else cares. I’ve even heard of a kid who printed out every article from the footnotes of his reading.
Typical responses to such reports: ew, gross, ugh and who does that? Someone who does all of his or her reading? Does their best to never miss a lecture? Either it’s a freshman that will soon learn the folly of his ways, or it must be a section jerk.
Guys. I get it. There are days when I too sit in bed listening to Leonard Cohen and eating Ritz crackers, laughing at the thought of 9 a.m. courses. But seriously. For many of us, college is the last time we will ever be students, have the luxury to learn about things formally just because they interest us. Let’s give the kids some slack. Shouldn’t it be admirable they care so much?
Frankly, I’m jealous. There are times in seminar I feel I’ve cheated myself, knowing I will probably never again return to these texts, authors and ideas. As a campus, social pressure should encourage, not discourage, people to work as hard as they can in their classes.
Unfortunately, working hard has a bad rep. If two kids both get As on a paper but one spent hours working on it and the other wrote it in 30 minutes, then logic tells us the second kid must be smarter. Therefore, by admitting you work really hard, you place yourself in the not-the-most-brilliant kid category, because you can’t write papers the morning of and gets As. Nobody wants that.
This creates a culture, kind of like being elect, where people need to act like they are one of the chosen. We start our papers at 5 a.m. because, you know, there was that thing last night, and we, the special, can get away with it. Students boast about writing papers that say nothing but get good grades, about amazing a professor without having done any of the reading — we admire this famous BSing, this admission that we bluff through a good amount of our academic input, this admission that we don’t care and that most of our comments lack substance.
That approach, understandable as it is, saddens me. I don’t care how hard you have to work — or don’t have to work — to get by in a course. Such a criteria does away with learning for the sake of learning, valuing doing your personal best and gaining knowledge because you love it. Rarely have I heard of someone who started a paper early because she cared about the subject and wanted to really write the best possible paper. Such a comment, I imagine, would be embarrassing to admit.
I’m not saying we should all feel guilty and time our lunches to maximize reading time, but students who deviate from the norm of being satisfied with a lot of BSing deserve respect, not eye-rolling. We are Yale students. We are here to learn, not only to network and socialize and enjoy the shortest, gladdest years of life.
Of course, your identity as a student need not define your time here if you don’t want it to. You can get a great education out of Yale while avoiding as much school as possible. And being a student doesn’t have to translate into doing all your reading, tracking down obscure sources in the Beinecke in your spare time or learning Nietzsche weekly with a friend for fun. But let’s stop making fun of the kids who do.
Shira Telushkin is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.