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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Love and learning

“The only question that should be raised about colleges is about the quality of the education, which cannot be measured in dollars any more than a symphony, a sunset, or an “Aha!”-phenomenon can be…Unfortunately, the quality of the education depends, not on the school as a whole, but on the particular set of professors the student happens to be brought in contact with. You can go to Harvard without ever encountering a professor who strikes that spark.”

-”nisiprius,” in an investment discussion forum,

Passion is a dangerous word.

Nineteen-year-old Hannah was passionate about everything. She wanted to know about game theory and evolution and jazz history and why people laugh. It was very exhilarating. But when the stress of college set in, she started to get the sense that other students who had tunnel vision in one area might have a competitive advantage.

My brother majored in Biology. For his humanities requirement, he took Philosophy of Biology. His GPA was much better than mine. I’ve taken enough science to feel dirty about calling that correlation causation, but I’ve flailed my way through a lot of classes I took solely because they were outside my comfort zone. Economics, International Relations – I didn’t allow myself any fun, and actually forgot what it was like to look forward to class.
Surviving Carleton means finding ways to cope. Complaining isn’t helpful, but it is human. The alarming thing about it – when you really pay attention – is that upperclassmen start to use the same language about our classes, our food and our sex lives. “How’s that class/sandwich/person?” “Eh. Not bad. I could take it or leave it. Maybe if I was drunk.”

Freshman year, I spent spring break backpacking in New Mexico with CANOE. For the first few days, I was pretty unhappy. The desert nights were freezing, I got lousy sleep, and I was annoyed with most of the people in our group. They made no effort to be interesting. The leaders had this weird exclusive sense of humor that came off almost rude, and I made a hundred mental notes to bitch about it to my friends the second I got back.

But I was stuck there. I couldn’t escape to Facebook or my iPod or even a book. I had nothing to look at for hours on end but the rocks, the sparse foliage, and their backpacks bobbing along in front of me.

There were communist lessons to be learned; I realized that cooperation wasn’t about looking like a hero. If you didn’t want to collect firewood, you just ate later.

Somewhere along the line, I started to accept the people. Maybe sitting around a campfire with the same people night after night tickles your hunter-gatherer bone. Maybe I just ran out of impatience. Either way, by the end, I was able to laugh with the ones who had bothered me the most.

These days, I believe it’s possible to love any human being on the planet. We make decisions about who to pursue relationships with – who to befriend, who to work with, and even who to date – based on proximity and logic. Who is easiest to get along with? Who can I learn from? Who is kind, or witty, or trustworthy, or aesthetically pleasing, or whatever qualities I currently appreciate most? It seems callous, attacking the magic of relationships, but it actually helps maintain them: If you can love any human being on the planet, you start to understand that the people in your life are there by choice. You prevent collecting fair-weather friends, or more importantly, acting like one.

This isn’t to discount everything Hollywood has told us about love. When chemistry happens, it is magic. It’s even better than the movies. And we shouldn’t question it; we should experience it fully, knowing that it is a small percentage of everything life has to offer.
So what does this have to do with academics?

In school, we’re told over and over to do what you love. Find your passion. But too often, this leads to seeing in black and white. Either you’re madly in love with something or you’re a directionless freak. It’s all very traumatic and unnecessary.

I think the Western, Austenian concept of romantic love and this enchantment with the midnight-oil intellectual come from the same place. They both illuminate beautiful truths, but they’re both fiction. If used on a regular basis, they become escapism.

One of my favorite professors, Tun Myint, once analogized teachers to gardeners, planting seeds of knowledge in our heads. It’s lovely, but it’s a little too domestic. We chose a liberal arts school because we’re still hunter-gatherers at heart.

“Thankfully sunsets and even books are accessible to matriculants and non-matriculants alike, and…I don’t see why we can’t be skeptical of this romantic “spark” you speak of?”


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