Monthly Archives: November 2010

Logic and the Liberal Arts: You’re Doing It Wrong

I may not be a smart woman, but I know what common sense is. This current absurdity defies all definitions of the word.

I chose to attend a liberal arts college; Houghton College, to be exact. I remember being rosy-cheeked and about fifteen pounds lighter when I made the journey four hours to the scholarly garden where I would become the most desirable of creatures – the well rounded, well learned Adult! I love the idea of being so doused and immersed in a whirlpool of academics that I never dried out. I had dreams of being this princess of the career world, having been taught all of the essentials to life and knowledge and the histories of ancient worlds. I would integrate faith with learning, be able to discern worldview and have the right to speak my mind soundly on topics of importance. Employers would scrabble and drool over my resume, fighting like starving jackals over my name on their company’s publications. There was no way I could fail, not with the naïve hope of simplicity drifting behind me like a graduation gown! College or bust, baby!

I should have smelled danger when they handed me my audit sheet and told me I was its sole master. I treated it well, filling in the blanks a few semesters at a time, completing it piece by piece. Even after all the positive feedback I gave it, it hates me. It was turned against me by Integrative Studies, the festering blister on my feverish junior mind. It shall be the death of me yet.
In investigating my options for the waning three semesters I have left at Houghton, I discovered that I have a few integrative studies requirements that have not yet been filled under the new system. No worry, I thought, I’ll take courses that fall under those categories and I’ll be set. Ooh look, posters advertising Aesthetics!

Now you would think that it would naturally make sense to have a college student take classes that would benefit or enhance their chosen major. When there are classes offered that cover a required subject and still relate to the student’s major of choice, it’s a nice compromise. But when those courses are not sanctioned by a Holy Administration to fill the general education requirements invented by liberal arts colleges, it puts me into a raging fury. This is my education and my money that I am spending to sit through the college’s laws on everything under the sun. I won’t drink; I don’t really care for alcohol anyway. I will go to chapel because you want me to be part of your spiritual community and I don’t want to make waves. I love fellowship and worship with my fellow believers in the faculty and student body. I will go for weeks without knowing how many meals I have left in the cafeteria because for some reason our new and improved technology can’t even keep track of numbers, but so help me, the least you might do is giving me the power to fill these silly requirements while still making sense in terms of my major.

I am double majoring in writing and art with concentrations in Photography and Printmaking. I have already begun my career as a published journalist and photographer someday hope to make my living as such. I have been blessed with loving parents who hoped to further my career by allowing me to attend the college of my choice, regardless of the cost compared to other competent schools. Both my majors are formed on the core ideas of communication and philosophy, but you need me to take classes to put the golden checkmark on my academic record. Especially with the new 2/4-credit system, spaces in semesters are filled up much faster. While it’s nice to have fewer classes overall, it means that fulfilling requirements feels like twice the effort for half the reward. No more sleep for Hannah.

When I asked Academic Records directly about why Introduction to Digital Imaging, a class that is unique in that it can be categorized as either art or communications, the response I received said that “The Communication department has decided that Digital Imaging fits into their major, but not that it is sufficient for a Communication class within Integrative Studies.” Pardon my impudence, but who are you to decide what is or is not sufficient in terms of Integrative Studies? One definition of the term is “making connections within a major, between fields, between curriculums, co curriculum, or between academic knowledge and practice.” Digital imaging has been deemed worthy enough to be considered Communications, but even though it makes connections both WITHIN my major and between curriculums, it’s not good enough? Shouldn’t I have some right to decide, though limited by general subject matter, the specific class that I take to fill a certain mandatory requirement, especially when it weaves into my major like a thread holding a seam?

I try and schedule flexible classes under a fairly rigid system in order to pay my dues while still getting through college in four years. I have not wasted my open credits since they were spent taking classes needed for my double major and other I.S classes. I was indulgent with a few electives… oh; wait, only pertaining to my major. I have kept my nose clean and even gone out of my way to take journalism May term in New York City to help reinforce my writing credits needed for graduation. I scratched and bit my way through Math and Bible classes that, ultimately, will not likely show their face again in relevance to my career or future. Trust me when I say that I’m not complaining about the requirements themselves. I knew what I was signing up for when I applied to Houghton and I’m all for ending my time in college with a well-rounded and expanded knowledge of a variety of subjects. When it comes right down to it, I’m also all for self preservation.

When it comes down to it, we’re just making this more complicated than it has to be. I need Communications credit? I will take a four-credit Communications class. I need philosophy? I’ll take a philosophy class that feels tailor-made for my major. I still need to take foreign language since my high school only offered two years of American Sign Language. I will be taking my search for an accredited ASL class elsewhere since that is a language that I enjoy and excel in. I was not fortunate enough to be raised in a foreign country where my life filled my language requirement. I will do what I need to do here to get my diploma, but I will not surrender my right to have a say in how exactly I achieve this goal. This absurd hedge-maze that I’ve gotten lost in is positive only in the fact that I know there are others who are lost with me. It’s also not a hopeless case. I will be filling out academic appeals these issues. Houghton College, I thank you for offering me a wide and flavorful banquet of classes from which to choose from, but you can’t have a balanced diet when key ingredients are missing. I cannot live on bread alone – I really like butter and jelly to break up the taste. Last I checked a pat of butter – a slight indulgence that is not unreasonable – did not break the bank.

Published in the Houghton Star

The Viral Obsession with Self

Every time that I return to our beautiful campus, I am reminded quickly that Houghton is a cesspool of seasonal illness. Every strain of cold and flu that we can manage to bring with us from home gets bred and spread here. Someone gets sick, then half the campus gets sick and we’re all doing everything we can to detoxify ourselves, from taking I.Vs of Airborne to attempting Bubble-Head charms in the mirror to disappointing and non-magical avail.
In light of living in this impending germ mosh-pit, I got my flu shot this year. I’ve gotten for the past four years without any negative side effects. Since I’ve been at college, however, I feel that saying the words “I’m getting” and “my flu shot” in the same sentence is the ultimate taboo. Fellow students have a tendency to dog-pile me with protestations, citing every Wikipedia article that says flu shots were tainted by the terrorists to brainwash me into paying for gas over three dollars a gallon. If they’ve heard anything about the dangers of flu shots, they’re going to compile a list of reasons why I’m a moron for protecting my vulnerable immune system. I’m getting a shot that has proven, by personal experience and medical science, to keep me from getting sick. Now, riddle me this: Am I a complete idiot for continuing to have this procedure done, based on the previous statement? Obviously, mass-hysteria and poor internet citation are more accurate than my personal experience. I’m sorry for ever doubting you!
More than anything here at Houghton, it feels as though we are not primarily plagued by physical ills – no, it comes down to a condition far beyond the reaches of modern medicine. We are, in Brian Regan’s words, “Me-Monsters.” We all hold our opinion above anyone else’s, regardless of whether we’re emotionally vested in the topic or not. We may not have a cotton-pickin’ clue about anything surrounding the circumstance, object or person we’re assessing, but we feel the need to draw conclusions and speak them as truth. The whole phenomenon starts primarily with gossip, but erupts into a pseudo-factual fun fest.
“I heard that What’s-His-Name is a total creeper. He was walking on the ski hill at the same general time of day as that one girl who has that reputation and they may have crossed paths once, so oh my, he was following her and doing sketchy business. I don’t know either of the people I’ve mentioned, and I’m pretty sure they don’t know each other, but I know what I’ve heard, and it’s not good. How are you friends with this guy? HARLOT!”
This ridiculous assumption that “Ego knows best” is a rampant virus on our campus, one that I fear and despise more than any strain of flu. This disease that we carry ranges from all areas of conversation and observation, primarily dealing with people and personal relationships and reaching out as far as tastes in food and various minor life choices. They can be directed at friends or complete strangers, but when we have something to say on the subject, we feel the need to open our mouths.
One of my favorite statements as of late is “Black coffee is gross.” Upon inquiring about multiple speakers’ experience with coffee and its degree of blackness, most times the response is something like “I… don’t drink coffee.” “Oh, never?” “Well, once when I was ten… and it was at a church welcome open house… and the carafe was rusted… and I only had a taste of my mom’s…” The fumbling continues and I proceed to gulp down my Frenchy French roast with a smack of my lips. That’s a simple matter of personal preference, and if this were the only issue, I would have no problem. It’s having little to no experience with the topic at hand that makes this exchange so convoluted.
We as a college need to stop being so fascinated in the sounds of our own voices as to take a moment to actually hear the truth on campus. We don’t need to say something about everything! This isn’t a Socratic seminar, no one is keeping tally on our participation. Try personally interacting with those people you criticize and rail against before you spread vapid lies and negativity to those around you. Sample the foods you spit out before you’ve even put them in your mouth. Learn the real facts about topics at hand before throwing in your counterfeit two-cents worth into the ring. Once out in the world outside of Houghton, you’ll have a harder time disguising your lack of knowledge. Start getting to know your surroundings and make mistakes while still in the safety of our blessed wooded home.
Look at me for example, proclaiming my observations and opinion to a paper read primarily by my peers. It’s what we do, it’s who we are. We have every right to form opinions. We will pass judgments and we will have preferences. But let’s not allow our impressions, judgments or wandering ears to become infallible truth in our minds. Let’s start being willing to be open to what we don’t know. We can’t accurately form opinions on things we don’t have a clue about. Caution is not a sin, but don’t let caution become rampant distaste and scorn. We consider ourselves first all the time, knowing our preferences and primarily ignoring those of others. If someone doesn’t seem to fit to our liking, it must be a problem with them, not with us.
My overreaching generalizations are meant to point out that I am also sailor in this unsteady vessel. We know ourselves and we can either admit our faults in these areas or deny them completely. In the end, no one else can convince us to change. That goes both ways. For those of you who need your unconfirmed words heard, I can’t make you change. For those of you being bombarded by someone else’s unjustified stand, those insipid conclusions should not change how you perceive your surroundings. We will be the same people unless we choose to change, by God’s grace, but we can’t be the voices of change that people will respect until we stop our dumb sheep-like existence and start opening our eyes while standing on firm and proven truth. This can be the only vaccination.