Sunday, January 28, 2007

Axe to Grind

I never liked lectures. Starting my first year of college I tried to get into as many seminars as quickly as I could. The thing is I find I learn so much less in lectures and find it much more difficult to really focus and dig into the material. I also tend to unintentionally try to turn lectures into seminars by asking specific questions and raising other points. I hope I wasn't the annoying kid who everyone wanted to shut up, but I think I might have been. Eh. The things is, I am abysmal at wrought memorization and have to build a framework of cause and effect to retain information and the only way I can pin that down is by asking questions. Anyway, at Columbia I was able to take a good number of seminars and graduate courses so it worked out and really enjoyed those classes.

Fast forward to this year. I love Vienna, but I hate European universities. Education in Europe emphasizes wrought memorization with next to no emphasis on thinking for yourself or questioning. I still remember being in college in the UK and being in an English class and being given sentences that we were encouraged to reproduce exactly in our standardized tests at the end of the year. When I was in Berlin things weren't that bad, but classes were usually too big for discussion. The academy here in Vienna, however, is small (there are only about 130 of us) and many of the classes are small enough that they could be run like seminars or at least feature some discussion But they don't. not only that, but many professors if not take aback by students having the nerve to ask questions, outright discourage the asking of questions or just won't answer them. The funny thing is there are 'seminars' here at the academy but they are classes that only meet twice, the first time there is a lecture and by the second time everyone is supposed to have written their seminar paper and they present it. Still no discussion. And I was looking forward to the one seminar I was going to get to take!

Yeah, not such a happy camper. What drives me crazy is on exams we don't even have real essays, we are not asked to write an essay about why something happened or to analyze, just to regurgitate facts and details exactly as the professor presented them with the exact same outlook and conclusions. AND THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE GRADUATE SCHOOL! There is absolutely no promotion of free thinking. I know I am still learning, but compared to what I could be learning here it is just sad. I certainly didn't love everything about Columbia, but there were definitely some things that were and are done very well there.

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