Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Notes from the I-House

So I decided to venture to the I-House (international house) for the first time the other day to get some studying done. I started writing this post, so clearly, that didn't happen. Here is what came to mind when sitting there:

What happened to the intellectualism of Berkeley?! What happened to the eclectic liberalism that defined [and arguably, continues to define] our campus? What happened to Berkeley as the world once knew it?

Whenever I enter the library or a coffee shop, the only thing I see are laptops, readers, or MCAT prep books. Rarely do I notice that lone intellectual, smoking a cigarette and reading philosophy, or debating about politics with a friend. Instead, I see masses of pre-proffessionals, fightings the curves and beating the system. I don't see real protests on Upper Sproul anymore; I see organized time allocations from 12-1pm for people to express their concerns. The spirit of Berkeley is withering away as academia prevails and education retreats.

Somewhere in me, the intellectual screams out and I want to join that dying minority. After all, it's why I came here. I had gotten into plenty of other schools, but it was the idea of Berkeley, being amidst the political core of perhaps the nation, and experiencing firsthand the revolution that supposedly resides within its students that made me want to come to the university (sure, the prospect of job positioning post-graduation didn't hurt either). That very quickly changed after my first semester here. Instead of rediscovering the love for knowledge and education that I had encountered with my friends and teachers at my high school, I was weighed down with textbooks, petty assignments, overwhelming competition, and little regard for the pursuit of a real education. I was too busy to care and too bent on getting an A to worry about appreciating my readings or understanding a certain historical context. Sometimes I feel that the conversations I had in high school had more meaning than they do is my propensity to engage in education dying here then? I certainly hope not.

I don't mean to critique Berkeley in a vacuum - I know for a fact that it's just as bad [if not worse] at other universities. What I do mean to point out is that I hold my school to a higher standard of intellectual fitness. I want the revolution back in Berkeley, and I'm worried that as time goes on and I become a professional, I'll be co-opted by the residual stream of pragmatism; something I don't think I'm ready for yet, and I don't think college students should have to face....a questioning of that pragmatism is what defines, IMO, the true elite students in a university.

It saddens me that I didn't realize this earlier. We often get so caught up with our friends, our social events, and our "education", that we lose track of the truly defining moments that can only be placed within our college experience. I certainly fell victim to that. My social and academic life defined my entire experience here and that is something I'm going work on for the upcoming school year.

Take a step back. Notice the people around you and how much you can learn from them. Sitting here in the I-House, I discovered a whole new side to Berkeley, where I am inspired by the diversity of the people who walk through the doors, and simultaneously excited to take in as much as I can from them and their experiences. Just sitting in the FSM reminds me of the University that I came here for....and the University I want to take away when I graduate.

One of the reasons I ran for Senate last year was because I wanted to be a part of the spirit of Berkeley....I can't wait to leave my mark in a history that is so rich and so inspiring to me. And fuck school....I'm going work very hard on getting my education next year.

[EDIT: ok, not exactly. i still need > 3.7. but you know, with some Marx on the side.]


Nikhil Arora said...

That was an interesting post, and I really agree with the message you were trying to get across about education.

I feel that time when Berkeley defined itself as so progressive was extremely unique in that there was an event going on that truly affected student's daily life (being drafted to fight). I don't think those students were any more special or different than those today, just faced with a unique situation that demanded that type of action. How can we really expect people to care about events in Darfur, Zimbabwe, or Belize when they're working 9-5's to put food on the table or studying hard to get that 9-5 in the first place? If someone knocks on my door to tell me to go fight a war i don't believe in, you best believe I'll be mass protesting, but until then, these protests/rallies are just a distraction from daily life.

By the way, one of my all time favorite quotes (first one I put up on my fb profile if that means anything...) that relates to that education thing is by mark twain: "I have never let schooling interfere with my education" - I seriously remind myself of that constantly, and have tried to live by that principle for a long time now...i've learned so much more from living life then opening any reader in college.

amittlp said...

Great post, Meghana! It's great that you're doing this.

I have a few thoughts

1) Perhaps a huge change came in 1997 when the UC system chose to end affirmative action. Berkeley naturally changed from being able to offer a diverse experience to offering the most driven and intelligent students the opportunity to study. A greater percentage of these students came from immigrant families, representing another change...

2) With an influx of sons and daughters from immigrant families, the purpose of receiving an education changes.

Who can blame them? Studying the humanities is great, but it is also a luxury. The reality is that many of Berkeley's top students are shouldered with the burden of transcending social levels for their families, and putting a love of learning above gaining tangible skill sets for the resume could be perceived as irresponsible.

3) As a public institution, Berkeley must offer appropriate opportunities to the citizens of California. While a few elite firms may not pay attention to major, many firms place high value on business education. Berkeley may have its hands tied as it must be pressured to prepare students to be successful citizens. It is in California's interest to have its brightest minds contribute to the California economy.

4) Given your proximity to the heart of silicon valley, there is a different sense of intellectualism. A passion for entrepreneurship, science, technology, and ideas that change the world can seem a lot more exciting than reading Marx under a tree filled with protesters.


Arjun Banerjee said...

Nice comment Amit, I agree. For some, college is a stepping ston to a career, not necessarily a place to broaden one's intellectual horizons. I know students who squeeze all their classes into 2.5 or 3 years and graduate early so they can "get on with it," and I know others who take a 5th year to take extra classes for enrichment - of course, most just try to make the most of 4 years. Good lookin' out Megs!

I came upon a dilemma last year when I was trying to decide what courses to take. This isn't what you're writing about above, but it's similar in that I was trying to decide what the best way to learn something was.

For some subjects, a course is the best way to gain some knowledge...for others reading independently, talking with grad students in the subject, or simply auditing or sitting in on the class may be better. Sometimes I get the feeling that one might be really interested in a subject, but once he takes a class on it he loses that interest out of frustration or boredom from tests, assignments, readings, etc. Other times a class augments one;s interest, though.

pavYedav said...

nikhil..that twain quote is simple yet so profound..definitely gonna start living by that