School can teach you many things, but it cannot teach you who you are. You yourself must do that. This is not to say that our professors and the university as a whole are unable to teach us worthwhile information, but rather that the education that we receive within the boundaries of our classes cannot be the primary force in our process of learning — and hopefully becoming — who we are.
Though our experience of college education has been marred by the restrictions of COVID-19, I do still believe that this new way of life, which will be our reality for the next semester at the very least, does present us with an opportunity to pursue new ways to learn and teach ourselves outside of the environment of formal education.
For me, school has always been somewhat unfulfilling in some way or another, even before COVID-19 forced us to go online. As someone whose main focus is literature, I have always felt much more at home sorting through the book stacks alone in the basement of Clark Library than I have in the classroom. I have often felt that school was a distraction from everything that I really wanted to learn — things that I can only learn by teaching myself. My experiences have proven to me that the most powerful teachers are all the strange old books in the library that look like they have not been touched once in the last fifty years. Every time that I would learn about a writer, whether in class or elsewhere, I would immediately run to the library to check out as many books as I could possibly carry home in order to satisfy these urges.
It is certainly a difficult routine to begin. At the beginning of every semester I struggle to find the discipline for it, and frankly, the only way to succeed in this process of teaching yourself alone is through forcing yourself, day after day, to lock yourself away from the world and work. When school was in person, I would spend up to ten hours a day alone in a small room in the basement of Shipstad Hall. Now, I’ve found an even smaller, more uncomfortable room in my own basement. Such an isolated environment is extremely valuable in the way of helping you forget about the distractions of classes, chores, and everything else for a few hours while you can attend to work that matters only to you.
This is what I believe college should be about. Love and be grateful for solitude. Be so hungry to learn about what obsesses you the most, that even at their most rigorous, your classes cannot even begin to be as valuable as what you can teach yourself.
Admittedly though, such an insistence on learning through my own aggressive methods has come at the cost of lower grades, late assignments, and workloads that only seem to grow larger as the semesters slog on. But this is an acceptable consequence to being intellectually fulfilled.
I am interested, and indeed fulfilled, by everything that is unorthodox, by everything that I find that changes, in ways both large and small, the way I see the world. I am interested in what is new. I do not believe that there is much newness in academia. It seems as though from class to class and year to year, there is a constant repetition of the same hollow phrases and systems of belief that do not change much across the subjects and disciplines. And certainly, perhaps all of these grand ideas and theories have been proven and validated over time, but without anyone searching for what is new, they will soon gather dust and lose their relevance.
In order to find what is new, and worth your devotion, you must try to learn about life on your own, away from all the distractions of things you have been told. I sincerely mean it when I say that all of the information that I have found that I know will be valuable for the rest of my life is information I have found out on my own, with no rewards in the way of classes and academic success.
This is not an attempt to devalue the benefits of a college education and to tell you that you should throw all your schooling out the window and do only what you feel like doing each and every day. I only want to recognize that there is a limit to what you can learn in school, and if you want to take your learning to the extreme, to the point where it becomes far more than a mere duty, you must do it yourself.
This is the luxury that COVID-19 and online learning have afforded us. Because so much of our time is now spent in solitude away from all the obligations of a normal academic life, we are forced to reckon with our boredom and hopefully make something of it that once we return to normal life, will have become routine. For me, that is writing. I have spent considerably more time writing in quarantine than I did before, and I will be very lucky if these habits remain with me in the years to come. I urge you, wherever it is that your interests may lie, to take advantage of these weeks and months where the hours seem to stretch on and always on into a bored eternity.
In five years, ten, twenty, many of us will not have the privilege of freedom that we have today. We will have families, jobs, piles of bills and hungry children. Our time will not belong to us the way it does now. We owe it to ourselves to not waste these months and maybe years putzing around our houses waiting for quarantine to end. Perhaps for some of you, your classes are enough. Perhaps for others, they are not.
Whatever the case, I strongly believe that you should throw yourself entirely into something that is worthy of your attention, whether it be writing, calculus, music — anything at all. As these months of isolation slog on, be alone with yourself, and learn. Nobody in the world will ever teach you so much.
Ajay Davis is a reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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