Sunday, 19 October 2008

Thoughts on Post-Secondary Education

Warning: VERY tl;dr, cliff notes at the bottom

I graduated from university in 2004, but since a lot of you are back in full school mode I thought I might blog a bit about my time there and what I thought of it. It's probably going to come across as a little negative, I had a good time while I was there but I'm disappointed with the results. So take what you can from it and don't make the same mistakes as I did.

Year 1
I decided to go to university right after high school. My thinking was that if I took a year off and worked and got my own place, I'd love it so much that I'd never go back to school. So I got myself a government student loan and did my first year on my 3 year B. of Arts at a satellite campus about a 1/2 hour drive from home. We then teamed up with other smaller towns that had satellite campuses and had joint classes via teleconference and internet based whiteboard. The actual university is about 1.5 hours away so I thought this would save me money since I wouldn't have to pay rent, could keep my current part-time job, and hang out at home instead of some stinky little dorm room. Gas was also cheap(er) compared to today.

This turned out to be a mistake. The class size was nice with about 40 people per class, but for some reason the university hired non-professors that happened to know something about the curriculum for us. For example, my statistics "prof" was actually a statistician that worked for the provincial government and was doing this class on the side. You'd think this would be a good thing - having someone from the real world as a prof - but the downside is that what they taught was so far behind what they were actually teaching at the real campus which led to me being way behind at the start of year 2.

They also had some random site admin running the place that was clueless so I had to make sense out of the university bible - aka the registration guide(s) - by myself. If this is your first year, think very carefully about what you want to do when you graduate. You can very easily waste a year if you don't have this figured out. There were so many people in first year, and even second year, that didn't have a clue what they were going to school for. With all of the pre-requisites for year 2 and 3 courses, you need to pick very carefully. You are better off taking a year off to think about it than waste a year's worth of tuition and rent.

I wanted to get a degree in computer science. I tried out the other math that was required for this - Vector Geometry and Linear Algebra - with one of the other non-profs. The linear algebra was lol easy and everyone in the class of 20 had at least a "B." Then the second term started with the vector geometry stuff and it was wicked hard. The final ended up being 80% geometry and needless to say, 15/20 people failed the class, myself included - I answered 4/25 questions on the final. The final was scheduled to take 1.5 hours and the room was empty before 30 minutes were up. So due to that experience I said screw computer science. If I had gone straight to the real campus I don't think this would have been the case.

Also, unless it's like 1 textbook for a class or something - DO NOT BUY THE "REQUIRED" BOOKS BEFORE YOU NEED THEM. I bought about $400 worth of useless books that ended up not being used for my first year courses because they were on the list. You'll get English profs who get you to buy an $80, 600 page anthology for 2 stupid poems that take up 1/2 a page each. Find as much material as you can online first, next check the library, - school and public - next check out used book stores, and lastly head to the university book store. Check out the libraries immediately after the book lists come out, because their are smart people out there that will have those books snatched up by the end of the week. And when you go to sell the store's books back to the them at the end of the year, they'll only take 1/4 of them back and on those you'll be lucky if you get 20% of what you paid for them.

Year 2
Year 2 I moved to the city and got a sweet deal on an apartment that was 3 blocks from campus. I was lazy obviously because I drove my car and paid for parking in the parkade while my street was full of cars from people parking there and walking.

Living in the city was fun although I didn't do much besides hang out with friends. Just the idea of being able to go out anytime for entertainment was good though, coming from a small town of 10k people.

I finally decided I wanted to be a high school teacher and picked a history major and geography minor as my teachables. Luckily most of the courses I picked for 1st year were transferable to this program. History was really fun. I had one prof for several courses that was a German Jewish guy that had lived through the start of Hitler's campaign and he told an eye opening story about how he had been in Prague as a 7 year old and his uncle had sent him to the store for bread and cigarettes and as he walked out the store, the tanks were rolling through the streets with no notice. He'd always go through the text for 10 minutes at the start of class, then say "... but here's what actually happened..." (he has travelled around the world helping with research projects in countless historical archives) and have these captivating stories for the other 1.5 hours. Best prof evar.

Geography was alright but I was expecting a little more out of it. Most of the profs in the department seemed to have left-wing social engineering agendas and really liked to put the spin on whatever topics they were covering. Out of 8 geography courses I really only liked the Tourism class which was actually more of a marketing class than a geography class.

I did a couple of other interesting courses as electives - basic psychology, sociology, and computer basics (this was pretty lol, I only showed up for the final as it was a course on how to use the MS Office Suite). I pretty much coasted through year 2. This is starting to ramble so on to the next year...

Year 3
I sublet my apartment for the summer and went back to my concrete construction job back home that I had for each summer break. For those of you out there getting student loans -
GET A GOOD SUMMER JOB! None of this part-time, work 15 hours a week at some useless job cause I want to sleep in every day and be a teenager shit. Summer might suck, but believe me, living on a restricted budget for 10 years after graduation would suck more. I have been out of school for 4 years now. I paid off my student loans in 8 months after graduation because I worked frickin hard on summer break. The government student loan rep actually tried to talk me out of paying them off, while at the same time they complained in every major newspaper about students not paying back their loans. I know people that are still $20k+ in debt that I graduated with. That is just silly imo. FWIW school is fairly cheap where I live. Tuition = $3500, rent = $10k.

I had a
panic moment in year 3. Here I am planning to be a teacher and sitting in Urban Geography class. The prof asks, "Just curious, how many of you are going into education post-grad?" 75/100 people raised their hands. I thought oh, shit.

So I coast the rest of the year and finish with a 3.2 GPA and apply into the education program. They tell me they have 300 spots available. I do some "research" around campus and the word is that there are 1500 applicants so I'm getting somewhat decent 5:1 odds.

I managed to get an interview. This did not go well. There were 5 applicants sitting in the interview and 3 interviewers - 1 was a city school
superintendent, 1 was an education prof, and 1 was the dean of the education faculty. My whole reason for wanting to be a teacher is basically why I am not a teacher.

*** My opinion of the state of the public education system ***
This probably deserves its own post. Kids are being dumbed down in the public education system (
PES). Sure the curriculum is being ramped up year after year and they are 'learning' stuff at an alarmingly fast rate. The problem with this is that they are not actually learning. The PES has become a school of memorization rather than a school of understanding. This is directly related to kids' interest in school and the drop out rate.

Kids are no longer engaged in what they are learning. They just know it, they don't understand it. They can rattle off all sorts of stats and dates and names, but they don't have a clue what they are talking about. Unless your kid's goal in life is to be a Jeopardy champion, the
PES has become utterly useless. What % of the tests that kids are writing these days are multiple choice compared to essay form questions?

I did awesome in school because of little
mnemonic tricks I used to remember and memorize everything. For example, you could ask a kid what year the Italian Revolution was or some other topic they might be studying in school. They might know it was 1848 and that the names of the time were Mazzini and Emmanuel II - these are easily memorizeable, multiple choice answers. I'd think of something like ME2/1848 and bam, instantly recall it. But try asking them what the driving forces were behind the 1848 revolutions and what else was going on in Europe at the time that was related to this and you will get deer-in-the-headlights response.

*** End Rant - Back to Year 3 ***

So I walk into this interview and get blindsided by my own stupidity as to what is acceptable. The other 4 applicants basically answered "I love kids! They're fun and great! By the way, did I mention I'd love to work with kids!" to every question.

My answer to why I wanted to be a teacher: "I want to teach children how to learn and how teach themselves. If they are only required to memorize facts with no understanding of them, what they are learning has no use to them and their education stops the second they walk out of the school - if they have even learned anything at all. If you can teach a child how to teach themselves, they will know how to find their own answers, adapt to changing life situations after school, and thus become a successful contributing member of society regardless of what kind of 'facts' they know."

Needless to say, all 3 interviewers gave me a very frightened look and I knew I was done. It was as if I had announced this revolutionary plan that they wanted no part of.

The next year, I didn't bother applying. 300 seats once again, but this time 5000 applicants. My school was the only one accepting out of province students into the program. I phoned a bunch of schools in other provinces to try there and the response was "Are you from X province? No? Sorry we're only accepting people from X province." Smart imo. Why is my school so stupid?

*** "Diversity" at my school ***
My school also followed a "diversity" policy in which visible minorities were given priority to get in regardless of ability or merit - almost identical to the affirmative action policies in the US. I'm not racist or anything. But I am a white guy. It kind of feels like there's this payback policy now, which is actually reverse racism - which is still racism. We had a bad form of racist social engineering until the 1970s, so what makes the current racist social engineering any better? It's just targeted at a different group. The oppressors have become the oppressed, and if you're not ok with this, then
you are the racist. From my perspective, the whole notion is basically a big flashing neon sign that says "All white guys to the back of the bus."

I think if I could do it over again, I would figure out what I wanted to do and go to a trade school for it as these programs are generally more to the point and shorter. Employers, especially older ones, are looking for experience, not necessarily a degree. Everyone and their dog has a B. of Arts/Science. My general reaction to my results is that I paid for a 3 year extention of high school that didn't get me where I wanted to go anyways. There is also a few websites out there that rate professors. Check them out. Do not end up in a snoozefest.

Don't get me wrong. Post-secondary education is a good thing. But think it through very carefully. Plan your entire program from the start and watch out for flip-flopping administration policies that can mess up your entire path to your degree. And make sure that degree is going to be worth something once you get it.

Cliff Notes
If you made it through this entire post, good job! This is definately my longest post ever. It took me several sittings to write it. I hope you've gleaned something you can use or think about in your post-secondary education.

1) Do not attend Mickey Mouse satellite institutions - they set you up for epic failure.
2) Spend rediculous amounts of $ on unused books, yay!
3) City life is fun!
4) Go from Computer Science degree to Bachelor of Arts - History and Geography.
5) Plan on teaching high school.
6) Actual university courses can be fun. Others, not so fun. It depends.
7) Get a summer job! Do it!
8) Panic over being able to teach.
9) State of Public Education System (PES) -> (POS) FMP.
10) Teaching how to learn = bad, revolutionary.
11) LOL diversity. Racism = not racist, not racist = racist.
12) Figure out wtf you are doing before you do it.

1 comment:

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