Originally published on October 20, 2008
You went to bed way too late last night and a mere six hours later, your alarm is incessantly blaring into your ear. Snooze after snooze, you don’t or can’t get out of bed. “If I get up now, I’ll be 15 minutes late to lecture, so I may as well not go.” Yes, this is a very common scenario. So, with such a handsome number of students opting for sleep over their history seminar, where are we really getting our education? After we graduate, what will be Northwestern’s most valuable gift to us — the lectures, activities, or experiences? As the last day to drop classes, November 3rd, quickly approaches, we may need to reassess what really matters.
There is no doubt that Northwestern is one of the nation’s top universities. Students here are serious about their studies and competitive to be the best in the classroom. But Northwestern students are rarely just Northwestern students — they are community volunteers, newspaper editors, artists, club presidents, musicians and athletes. With so much more on our plate than reading Kant by tomorrow’s 9 am lecture, can we get our real education through our non-academic activities?
SESP junior Allie Kerr places the most value in learning in the classroom and feels little motivation to join any clubs. As an education major, she learns from seeing how her own professors teach. “My tuition money is paying to see people highly respected in their fields. Classes are the most important thing, especially as you get older, you’re out of those large intro classes, and the classes get more personalized.”
Indeed, our tuition money is for the academics — I’m not paying thousands of dollars a year to be a volunteer for OASIS. But at the same time, I’m hard-pressed to believe that someone can receive a truly diverse and valuable education from classes alone.
Megan McGee, a Medill freshman, notes that although the academics are important, activities are just as essential. “Each component has something different, but equally valuable to offer. The academics are important, but the activities expo helps establish a little niche in which you belong.” If the overwhelming number of displays set up at the ASG Activities Fair is any indication, there’s no shortage of learning opportunities outside of the classroom at Northwestern.
Kim Castle, a Communication sophomore, finds that not only are both spheres important, but her experiences in the classroom and involvement in activities influence each other. “Certainly, a good percentage of [my education] comes from the classroom. A lot of the background knowledge needed to do the work outside of the classroom through student groups, I learn in class. And involvement in student groups influences how I approach material in class and what I get out of it.”
But in the end, there is something that activities and experiences can offer that lectures simply cannot. While we probably won’t remember any of the material we learned after finals week is over, we’ll always remember the strength we felt at the 28th hour of Dance Marathon or the late nights we spent planning Sex Week. Although Nancy Fru, a Communication junior, sees the value in the duality of lectures and experiences, she acknowledges that there is something she gets through her position as the African Student Association president that no professor could ever give her. “I get a chance to pull my sleeves up, get entirely into the experience and take something away from it. Lecture is a one way communication stream — we take in what the professor says and must digest the information then and there.”
But what would a sage professor — the person who’s giving us our lecture tomorrow — consider to be more important? Looking back on her own years as an undergrad, art history professor Sarah Teasley remembers that “classes were as important as activities as what my friends were doing that day as what band was playing that night… through activities, you’re learning about organization and producing something. At the time and even looking back, everything [the classroom and activities] was equally important.”
English and gender studies professor Nick Davis finds that the partnership of learning in the classroom and living your life to be an “unbeatable team.” Davis finds value in the “two simultaneous educations, the one you get from living your life and the one you get from working, hard and deliberately, to learn things you don’t know and to think in new ways about new ideas. In the best cases, these two learning processes feed each other.” There you have it — even the sources of our classroom learning don’t want us to concentrate purely on academia.
There is absolutely no denying that what we learn from our professors is incredibly important, but the true value of a Northwestern education comes from an emphasis on pursuing your interests outside the classroom. Let’s face it: You won’t be using Plato to solve that problem at work; rather, you’ll remember how you negotiated at Mock Trial. So come November 3rd when you’re thinking about dropping that seemingly useless class to make more time for yourself, consider your priorities. With so many mediums through which we can learn — lectures, clubs, and experiences — we have no time to spare on devoting our life to a single cause. Sitting through class will produce the diploma, and those extra experiences will produce the spirit and know-how needed for the real world.