By Keerti Murari
Apathetic. Ignorant. Lazy. Unmotivated. Indeed, these are a few of the myriad compliments members of our generation happen to receive on a daily basis. The spirit of an active and engaged youth preserved in torn, yellowing photographs seems like a memory, long forgotten. Influenced by rampant manic consumerism and the widespread technologization of our society by cell phones, Facebook and Twitter, the desensitization of the present-day youth is simply a product of the world we happened to grow up in: one that encourages us to fear the unknown, rather than embrace our differences; one that feeds upon the weak, instead of empowering them; and one that teaches us to follow directions and pencil in the circles neatly, as opposed to challenging us to think outside the realms of boxed instructions.
The latter institution that I am referring to is of course the formal education system. With every new standardized exam and novel drug made to cure an eight-year-old’s mind-boggling inability to sit still and focus on his times tables, we continue to further dichotomize intelligence from creativity.
What’s more, our society goes on to stigmatize the latter with statements such as ‘curiosity killed the cat,’ and completely removes any notion of ‘artistic’ ability from the logical pursuits of the sciences and mathematics. The blatant hierarchy among the subject areas is a tribute to the failures of school, encouraging young students as early as elementary school to see certain subjects as greater than others.
Add on the coming-of-age ritualistic pressures of GPAs, SATs, MCATs, LSATs, GREs, rankings and all the rest, and you have a student population completely disengaged from the underlying driving force of learning: curiosity.
So how does this relate to an apathetic student culture? In short, the lack of curiosity breeds apathy.
Union College is blessed with a multitude of resources, a beautiful campus and knowledgeable professors, yet it suffers abysmally when it comes to having an active and engaged student body. Uncontested student government elections, and seeing the usual handful of suspects at intellectual, philanthropic and cultural events attest to this unfortunate dynamic. Perhaps I am guilty of generalizing, but for the most part, the educational events and community service projects at Union are usually carried out by the same group of students.
So all that being said, I propose to eliminate GPAs and ranking—essentially the orthodox numerical grading system—and replace it with a pass/fail system relying on a holistic criteria-based assessment that would look at all aspects of the work completed by the student—ability to work with others; ability to apply material; ability to add to classroom discussion; ability to think creatively, etc.
Additionally, I would recommend Union to implement a minimum service requirement of 24 hours upon graduation, which is basically two hours a term. Students who go above and beyond the minimum service requirement should be recognized formally, just like students who are currently commended for achieving high GPAs.
Finally, I believe that an even greater emphasis should be placed on interdisciplinary courses, a step that Union seems to have taken with courses such as Medical Spanish and Illustrated Organism.
I do not claim to have the ultimate solution, but I feel that by making these structural changes, it will lead to a shift in educational paradigms and gradually transform the student culture at Union to a more conscientiously active and critically aware body. The role of educators is more than just transmitting knowledge. It is to inspire, not necessarily through incredulous human feats, but through challenging the way students understand a chemical synthesis, design a robot, analyze a sonnet, examine a socio-cultural phenomenon—i.e. how they think. Such a philosophy on education is vital to reinvigorating the element of curiosity that we have undeniably been missing.