Why I Almost Dropped Out of College

Published at 09:07 on 10 January 2014

Apropos this, I disagree with the answer in the headline. Science may be harder than other subjects but I also found it much more interesting than other subjects. It was always my favorite subject in school. Difficulty is not an obstacle if a subject is interesting.

Yet, I almost dropped out from a scientific major in college. The issue wasn’t the work, it was that the work was mostly ritualized bullshit that had very little to do with actual learning. And most of the professors obviously cared more about their research than their teaching.

On the latter point: why shouldn’t they? Excelling as a teacher seldom gets one the recognition and rewards that excelling as a researcher does. Any professor who prioritizes teaching over research has chosen to buck the system and sacrifice formal career rewards for the intrinsic reward of doing well at a job s/he enjoys and values. The latter is admirable, but it’s not the way to get a set of professors who typically value teaching as the number one priority.

So, there I was, struggling with lots of BS homework that was getting in the way of side projects I was doing on my own that were leading to real learning. Mathematics and physics were particular problems, since I comprehend both in different ways than most. The lectures, books, and assignments were mostly mystifying and comprehension could only come as the result of extensive pondering and research on my own.

There were two straws that almost broke the camel’s back. The first was when honor students would come to me, the student who was struggling to keep a B- grade point average, asking for help with key concepts they were incapable of grasping. The second was my difficulty of of getting courses taught by my favorite mathematics professor (one of a select few who did not mainly mystify and confuse me), who also had a reputation of being one of the hardest professors in the department. In response to students avoiding the hard professors, that department had a policy of not publishing who was going to be teaching various courses, which frustrated my desire to get courses taught by that professor. It became clear to me that formalized education was a mostly corrupt institution with little overall net value.

I persevered, but got out as soon as I could with a B.S. degree and refused to consider going further. If I’m to be assigned lots of busy-work that gets in the way of my self-directed learning and exploration, I figured I might as well get that busy work in the form of a job where someone else pays me to do it, as opposed to at a university where I am paying for the same nuisance.

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