Our generation loves the motto “work smarter, not harder,” but its meaning has been warped by college students at Yale and across this nation. We dilute the concept of work so that it undercuts the experience of learning. We distort “smarter” to mean shortcutting and — in the worst cases — cheating. By doing so, we devalue our education. We lose integrity.
There are plenty of hard-working Yalies who carry themselves with the utmost integrity. Most of our student body consists of diligent students who chip away at problem sets and essays. However, there exists another side of Yale that puts into question the university’s atmosphere of academic rigor. Students who exclaim, “Wow, I have the guttiest schedule ever!” and “Readings? You think I do readings?!” epitomize how some Yalies indulge in taking shortcuts. But while these comments carry a tinge of innocence, they are not harmless; they embody the real phenomenon of “gaming” college. To win is to survive on minimal effort.
The most glaring example of strategic laziness is skipping classes. Certain Yalies choose to bypass the process of in-person learning for last-minute cramming because lecture attendance ultimately isn’t graded. Even for those who do attend, I’ve already seen far too many people who roam Facebook, text friends or finish homework for other classes as they drown out the professor’s voice. Intellectual growth occurs through rigorous engagement with subjects. It requires time. Unfortunately, students often delude themselves into thinking they are special enough to bypass this process.
There is, however, a more serious issue at stake: academic dishonesty. A YDN survey of 1400 undergraduates last year found that 14% of Yale students cheated on exams and 24% copied answers from others’ problem sets during their Yale tenure, with true figures likely being much higher than reported. Once again, this is a matter of insufficient investment in classwork. Perhaps students would not feel compelled to cheat if they started problem sets earlier, attended more office hours or stayed engaged in lectures. Preparation eases the anxiety that compels Yalies to abandon their morals.
The subversion of work hurts everyone. Those who skip readings for humanities classes take away valuable minutes from discussions that too often end right as they begin to make progress. While some professors urge their students to skim due to the density of some readings, there is a fundamental difference between extracting key points after methodically skimming a text and mindlessly remembering lines for discussion. STEM classes also face challenges. Students who copy the solutions of others compromise the morality of their peers; they undermine everyone’s work and misrepresent Yale to employers when tasked to remember technical concepts from class that they deftly avoided understanding.
The root of the problem: results. Our culture prioritizes ends so much that the means become expendable. In college, the incentive of high grades — and the subsequent internships, graduate school acceptances and career development opportunities they offer — is so powerful that it erodes the intrinsic value of learning and overrides our sense of right and wrong. Hence, we feel that we don’t need to understand concepts fully, we simply need to meet the lowest standard for an “A.” Grades are the defining achievement in the educational game.
Technology allows this attitude to fully realize itself. The internet makes mind-numbing summaries of readings and problem set solutions more accessible than ever. Through social media and messaging, pictures of answers can be requested immediately after glancing at a problem — all without a trace of effort. But none of these methods contribute to learning whatsoever.
Ironically, intrinsic motivation to learn leads to better results than taking shortcuts. The process of learning requires one to sit down and truly engage with difficult tasks; no shortcut can replace this experience. By learning for the sake of the subject matter, we grow our passions and develop good habits. We become more patient, resilient, creative and thoughtful. These habits ultimately determine how far we go. Cheating the system will eventually catch up with us. We will be left with bad habits and a meaningless Yale degree.
Others might not invest in their schoolwork because they value their social lives. I fully support an enriching and enjoyable college experience. We are right to go out and spend valuable time with our friends. But we are mistaken to think that fun has to be sacrificed at the expense of work. A balanced and diverse allocation of time maximizes the satisfaction we get from both work and leisure.
We shouldn’t blame Yale for our lazy tendencies and poor time management. Instead, let’s wake up earlier, attend lectures and tackle problem sets with rigor. All of this is easier when we remember where our passion from learning originates. Something profound captivates us about the interactions of biomolecules, vibrant mosaics and the complexity of political economy. This powerful intrinsic motivation molds us into becoming better thinkers, leaders and people. Just because the results aren’t immediately visible doesn’t mean they won’t come to fruition.
We came to Yale so we could learn — not to lose our integrity. Don’t cheat. Working “smarter” by gaming the system adds no meaningful value to our lives. Grades are meaningful because of the effort we put into them. Take pride in work, and enjoy the grind.
EDWARD SEOL is a first year in Berkeley College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .