Several conversations fly into my mind, separated widely in time and space, about what college is supposed to mean and do. I remember one of the few social outings of my college years, a cocktail party with other advanced chemistry students and a few professors, where mostly everyone but me was drunk. We were at the house of a chemistry professor of Kiwi (New Zealand) origin, who was probably the drunkest of the lot.
Another chemistry professor asked me why I was in college. I told him, with sober placidity, that I was simply doing the things I had to do before I got to medical school — medicine being my passion. He launched into a tirade about how I was in college in order to learn. I should learn all I could about anything I could because this would be the last chance in my life to do so, before I went into that sickly-overblown trade school that is medical school, where I would be restricted to learning things that would make me more money. During my childhood, my father rhapsodized about his Harvard experience and how he wanted me to have one equally fulfilling — hopefully at Harvard. Growing up in Harvard it is not hard to generate negative feelings about perceived elitism, more financial than intellectual, dominated by a heavy veneer of snobbery, which my father joyously promulgated.
I was busy spending most of youth being overweight and thus largely a social pariah. Unfortunately, I got little recognition for these twin achievements – unlike the deliciously funny portrait of “Overweight Achievers” in Woody Allen’s film “Celebrity.” Read more on Is College A Waste of Time?…
I am not surprised at all that the findings of this study show young people in college don’t learn much in the first two years. I don’t think they learn much in all four. I was delighted that someone has the brass gonads to take these findings and make them public.
I am not sure how a standardized test would measure critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and writing skills, but let us assume for the moment that it does at least some of that.
I spent a hunk of my career on the faculty of a few medical schools. It never would have occurred to me to try to do anything at all with those allegedly useful four years of “pre-med” college education. It was too evident to me that nothing was happening intellectually. I could not wait to get out of there and get right to medical school. I was marking time to get a bachelor’s degree, and the only reason was to get to medical school. The passion was for medicine, not for the four years of undergraduate college.