Are you approaching college “the easy way”?

By and
March 29, 2011, 12:27 a.m.

When I look at all the recent commentary surrounding “the list” – in this paper and the Review – it isn’t the debate over misquotations or misrepresentations that interests me. Rather, I think there is a greater issue relevant to the educational interests of all Stanford students, not just athletes. Recently, I read a New York Times op-ed piece by Bob Herbert that lamented lower studying rates among college students since the 1960s that coincided with higher GPAs. Generally, more students are just “skating by,” leaving college with little improvement in reasoning and reading skills. Herbert has written before on education (here and here), warning that the United States faces a crisis of education and therefore a crisis of future leadership.

In my mind, Stanford students should be less concerned with whether athletes are getting an easier ride, and start to question their commitment to their education. How many of you have finished a paper, thinking to yourself “that’s good enough”? In my short time at Stanford I can definitively say that many of us wait to write our papers until the night before, myself included. I freely admit to skipping course readings, sure that they wouldn’t be on the final. Countless times, I’ve heard people calculating their grades: “Oh, I only need to get a 75 on the final to get an A, so I’m not stressed out.” We are constantly trying to make our coursework easier and our tests count for less so that we can devote our time to other things. We congratulate ourselves endlessly for finishing a paper. As long as our grades are good, we are satisfied and tell ourselves we’re succeeding. But what if our grades don’t actually reflect our effort?

Are we approaching our education in the right way? Should we be choosing the easiest paper prompt and lowest-unit classes that fulfill multiple GERs? I’m not saying that people at Stanford aren’t serious about their education. But speaking from my own experience, I sometimes feel that I don’t have to put in my greatest effort to receive a high grade. It’s certainly much easier for us to access information than it was for our parents — a synopsis of Locke’s Second Treatise of Government is just a click away. Perhaps technology contributes to our easygoing attitudes. But it cannot completely explain our generation’s tendency to approach homework with distaste, procrastinating and complaining until the final punctuation mark has been added — then rushing to focus on something else.

My parents often tell me how jealous they are that I get to study interesting things all day. What Herbert is trying to say is that we should value these years and use them to our advantage — because the choices we make about our learning ethic now do affect our futures in the workplace.

Nina Papachristou, Daily Fellow

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