April 15, 2002

crude inner-workings

Sorry about this. It’s a beautiful day, but these things just shoot outta nowhere. Soon I will sequence my rants on Academia so you can choke them all down. It will be a book, and no one will buy it.

Another day of casting my lines wide into the world of pundits and warbloggers. While reading out loud a line from the Tim Blair interview (the site actually looks like poop but Tim is a riot. I feel a bit self conscious that it’s posted at Right Wing News… I never thought of myself that way…) I got a stern request that I shut my mouth in Editing class. The discipline felt kind of good, taking me back to the days of second grade with Mrs. Whatshername. I was always drawing pictures while she was teaching, and she got some foul pleasure from throwing away my work with the claim I wasn’t paying attention.

It’s not that I don’t care what my professors are talking about, it’s just that the stuff I’m finding on my own is much more interesting. I’m distracted by my own thoughts and my personal quest for knowledge, and I will only follow college so far as I see fit. We have a give and take relationship, but I refuse to always stoop to her level to find a common ground for communication. Come to Butthead. College should work for me, not the other way around.

I get the impression from UMD that if I push hard enough at a classroom wall it will topple in a cloud of dust, exposing the greasy gears and other crude inner-workings of High Academics. It feels like everything was dumped out of a pail and is held together with paste and toothpicks. Assignments are meaningless, discussions are hollow, the kids are ‘cool’, clocks are wrong, paperwork is fierce and my email has been sabotaged. Where’s the knowledge, the information, the grit? Why must so much of my time be wasted in class when everything great that I accomplish happens outside, often independent, of school?

One time back in the day, I was talking so much the teacher threw me out in the hall for an hour. I missed the entire neat art project with charcoal. She obviously knew how to push my buttons, but I had her number as well. One day she asked me, “Are we having a bad day?” and I replied, “I don’t know, are we?”

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are many good things going on at UMD. Guests like Steven Smith of American Radio Works and Brad Nelson from the Ripsaw newspaper. Philosophical symposiums. Student organizations. UMDStudents.com (sometimes). A sexy library. I’m all for the community aspect of college. It gives you the opportunity to rub elbows with peers and professionals and a framework (degree program) in which to organize and sequence these encounters. Chances are you couldn’t get the same experience by paying yourself $8,000 a year and sitting at a computer five days a week. The discipline that college requires makes it remarkably efficient at transferring information and maturing the mind, but it would be inaccurate to say college is without serious flaws. In college’s need to efficiently teach the greatest number of students it does a poor job of tailoring its program to the dynamic, self-motivated individual.

I know things, and I don’t enjoy the feeling that I know things. It puts me on the outside, at the fringe. This can be fun I suppose, but the occasional visitor to the Edge would be nice. I want to feel like there are entire spheres of knowledge that I have not begun to pierce. Challenge me, knock me on the head with technical jargon! Sugarcoating is for children. I like my tea bitter. Gives me all the more reason to drink it.

Today in philosophy class, Speaker Bruce mentioned (and quickly explained) IEEE/1394 when talking about digital video. Now, when you are presented with new information you have one of two options. You can curl up in a little stupid ball and whimper that the world is so damn complicated that you’ll never understand anything so there’s no point in trying. Or. You can listen and file away the information with the belief that it may come in handy at some point. Everyone in class gasped at IEEE/1394, giggled at the impossibility of such knowledge and took a nap as Bruce explained it in detail (it’s the cable standard for video capture, also known by Apple’s term FireWire and Sony’s iLink). And yet even with their disinclination to actually learn something about the technology involved in editing video, the kids still expect to be spooned help in putting their films together. Some of these people have been in college three years and they still don’t know how to wipe their ass.

Once my second grade teacher held me after class when everyone else had gone to lunch. I got a ten minute speech on how I should be respectful when people are talking, how I should pay attention, how I should not talk out of turn. Finally at the end she asked me if I had anything to say:

“I didn’t know you had braces.”

I went to lunch.