Monday, January 12, 2009

Our English Syllabus

Let me start off by saying that I have a lot to say about this, so I apologize for the length.

I have always hated math. I've never been very good at it. I went through all if my education asking the question, "Why would I ever need to learn this? When am I ever going to use the quadratic formula?" To me it was belligerently pointless. My sophomore year of high school, my geometry teacher told me this, "You really don't need to know any of this stuff to be successful." So I ask him, "Then why take it?" He stared at me for a little while, almost confused. After a few seconds pause he replies, "Well to teach you how to learn of course."

At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about. I was more excited my math teacher admitted to the formulas being useless unless I'm going to be anything that deals directly with solving the area of an octagon.

I was not the most studious student through out high school. In middle school I had such a hard time worrying about grades and all the pressures my teachers and society were laying on me that by the time I reached high school I became apathetic. It was terrible at the time, but now that I look back I would have it no other way. I began to learn on my own terms. If something intrigued me, I looked into it. I eventually began to become a student, but not because I wanted better grades, but because I was beginning to see how math was teaching me how to learn.

I chose Calvin College because it is a liberal arts college. Let me pause here and insert one complaint I have about Calvin college: If I were to have it my way, I would inherit a multi-million dollar franchise and be set financially for life, but continue to go to Calvin College until there were no more degrees or fields of study left for me to explore. I understand the importance of a liberal arts degree (I'll go into this later), but it is becoming increasingly difficult to learn for the sake of learning. I have to pay $26,000 a year - give or take $2,000 - just to learn. This is a huge problem. I go into debt as soon as I walk of campus as an alumni. This forces me to become specialized and focus on a specific job so that I can pay off the loan I had to borrow so that I could learn for the sake of learning! It's very frustrating. Anyways, back on topic.

I chose Calvin college because it is a liberal arts college. Like any other senior in high school I wrestled with where I wanted to go and what I wanted to be when I was older. I spent many nights restless, pondering and probing all the advice given to me to help me decide on where to go. There was one specific night where my geometry teacher entered my mind, "To teach you how to learn of course." I began to think about God and the universe he had created and how it follows a certain set of rules. Let me explain.

Every time I jump, I come back down. There has never been an incident where someone took a leap and never made it back down (unless they got caught in a tree but I think the point is clear).
Math is just apart of the universe as gravity. It's not a human conception. It's part of the equation God has used to define the universe. Once this is understood - that everything operates on specific principles - it is easy to see the importance of math. Everything that happens can be related in some way to a math equation. C.S. Lewis goes over this in Mere Christianity in a much more simple and articulate manner. He starts off the book by pointing out this moral code that the universe follows.

So, by taking all of these classes whether we like them or not, we are able to see kernels of truth scattered across all sorts of academia such as math, science, history, physics, philosophy...etc. We are not taking these courses because we think that some day down the line our job might require some sort of biology, but because once we have seen every perspective of the universe we are able to bridge and connect fundamental truths about God's world. One could almost say God is found in math.

Another peeve I hold against education is grades. There was an experiment in psychology where a group of kids were told they would be rewarded if they colored with these markers. So they colored and they were rewarded. They were then left in the room with more markers and paper but they did not color. Meanwhile, in another room, a group of kids were promised no rewards but were just told to play. They also had markers and paper, so they colored. My point here is that when we are held to a standard where our play becomes work (or our need for learning becomes apart of the monotonous routine of society) we no longer desire it. I can of course see the need for grades, for without them there would be chaos and no way to assure that the school's mission is upheld. But a thought I don't think we should so easily push aside. Perhaps school has some reforming of it's own left to do.

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