It’s that time of year again. Sleepless nights, brain overloads and the skyrocketing of Red Bull campaigns all over North America.
You guessed it, finals.
As I’ve been sitting for hours on end hoping to complete the mountains of work that I have ahead of me, I can’t help but think about what the learning process looks like within the context of University. We are exposed to incredibly useful academic resources, we are able to learn from educated professors in a chosen field and are able to gain valuable practice experience that allow for us to be prepared for professionalism (this is not always the case, but in general this has been my experience).
Yes, there are many pros to learning in a University (or College) setting, however, I have a problem with it being an extremely performance focused environment.
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”
I remember having my first meltdown in University. I was studying like crazy and felt the burn out on a daily basis. My brain felt like a cup that was constantly on the edge of overflowing with information. I was getting straight A’s at the time and felt very proud of myself.
Then I got a B+ in one of my history classes. (Cue freak out)
To some (if not everyone) this would be encouraging news. As someone who’s whole identity rested in the fact that my GPA was above 4.0 (amen for repentance), this is no way was “congratulations!” worthy. I remember crying on the phone with my sister and feeling the unavoidable sighs and lack of empathy on the other end. “It’s really not a big deal, you need to be grateful” is a loose paraphrase of what she repeatedly told me in the midst of my the-entire-world-is-ending spiel.
After I picked up what was left of my pride on the sidewalk that I stood as I vented to Jess, I remember trying so hard to see how there was more to life than grades. There MUST be.
Fast forward to a year later when I transferred to the Social Work Program. My idea of what learning is experienced a drastic paradigm shift.
(Disclaimer: at this point, the lowest grade I had ever gotten on an assignment in University was a D but I ended up getting a A in the class because of my overall performance. Other than the B+ I received in the class that I mentioned, I generally finished with A’s.)
In one of my classes, I failed to look at the syllabus for the assignment requirements and ended up doing my own thing. I honestly thought that I was on the right track and absolutely loved writing an essay about my privilege and how unaware I was of the oppression around me. I submitted my essay feeling proud of how much I had learned throughout this course that led me to a place where I felt free to write about it.
Long story short, I got an F.
No need to cue the freak out. I saw my grade, shed a single tear and, after realizing I did not at all meet the requirements of the assignment (ALWAYS REFER BACK TO THE SYLLABUS, FOR GOODNESS SAKE), I realized something valuable: what you learn isn’t always reflected in the outcome of your grade. Sure, it can be a reflection of how hard you are/aren’t working, but not always.
In a society that is highly influenced by classical liberalist ideologies, it is so easy to have an a+b=c mindset. If I study “a” amount and work “b” amount than I inevitably get “c” result.
This, however, is not true.
Sometimes, you will pour your heart into something and still not get the grade you want. Sometimes, you’ll work so hard in school and still not land the dream job. Sometimes, you’ll invest your heart into a relationship and still not have your feelings reciprocated.
That is life. It doesn’t make you any less or devalues the work you’ve done. I think we need to be much more critical about what we’re taught regarding the process of learning. The ideologies embedded in our society are ever present and can totally enslave our thinking if we aren’t careful.
Why can’t we just enjoy learning for the sake of learning? Why must a letter grade, validation from others or outcomes be the source of our successful?
I’m choosing to have the mindset of a+b=?. I have no idea what the outcome will be but, as Miley once said, “it’s the climb.”