The topic of Bowdoin students' well-roundedness, brought up at last month's
faculty meeting, deserves a brief discussion. The professors who are skeptical
of the overwhelmingly optimistic view of well-roundedness are probably
right: Bowdoin students tend to be so well-rounded that they often spread
themselves too thinly. Sometimes students are so busy that they seem like
they're back in high school, living for the sake of their college applications-now
it's their resumés and their graduate school applications.
Bowdoin students would probably do themselves some good if they would
ease up on their multitude of activities and focus on just a few activities
that they can devote fuller and more meaningful attention to. Now, at
the beginning of a new semester, is a good time to question why we do
things here, and maybe to consolidate our schedules a bit.
The professors who favor less well-roundedness, however, are very wrong
in thinking that we should give up student activities in order to devote
more time to classes. Classes can be worthwhile and offer substantial
intellectual development, but classes are no more important to our education
and personal development than the activities outside of class. In fact,
many students will say that their extracurricular activities are the most
meaningful and most educational aspects of their college careers.
Forcing students to become superstar academics would only make Bowdoin
more of a preparatory school for graduate school than it already is. We
do learn a practical trade at Bowdoin: we learn how to be professional
students. (And that's not to say we learn to be lifelong learners. That's
a virtue you either choose to have or don't; no one teaches you that-not
Bowdoin, nor any other school.) Our extracurricular activities offer a
way to get real, practical experience in fields unknown in the Bowdoin
classroom. For example, since the College refuses to offer classes in
journalism, the only way for a student to get experience in the field
while here is to join one of the student-run publications.
It's a good idea for both students and faculty to reconsider well-roundedness.
Faculty need to understand that classes do not have to be our top priority,
and students need to start making some choices.
Today ends the first of our two "shopping" weeks for classes.
Most people are content with their four chosen classes by now, but the
rest of us have another week to bail out and add on. And for seniors with
additional credits, we've also got another week to discover the glory
of just dropping a class and taking a reduced course load of three classes.
That our two-week add/drop period is far shorter than most other schools'
is essentially beside the point; that just makes it all the more important
for us to choose our classes wisely now.
Choosing is not always easy, though, especially when a class's syllabus
is so scary that we are forced to drop the class. Some classes that may
in practice be wholly worthwhile very often seem on paper to be nothing
more than a chore; other times a bad class is rightly flagged by a foreboding
syllabus. In fact, some professors intentionally try to scare us off in
the first day of class by imposing unreasonable regulations and requirements.
When we look at a class's syllabus, instead of getting a wholesome view
of the class, we see it as a list of things that constitute a grade. We
get a complicated description of a compartmentalized class, broken down
neatly into formalized, required, and nearly always graded parts. In addition
to the standard fare of class sessions, labs, essays, quizzes, and exams,
there are class participation requirements, class presentations, class
discussions led by students, various mock things, group projects, study
groups, discussion sessions, required evening lectures, and so on.
Some classes have so many components to them that the various parts substitute
for education rather than promote it; sometimes the more innovative, public,
and fragmented the course becomes, the farther we get from what's fundamental.
We have unaffectionately called the phenomenon, since elementary school,
Of course this is not true in all classes-there are many classes that
are taught extremely well and efficiently, with respect for the individual
student's private, idiosyncratic learning style, as well as his or her
time. In some courses, though, we might be getting an education that is
not necessarily greater than the sum of its parts.