Thursday, April 10, 2008

David realizes things finally matter now

At this stage in our education, there has finally come the point where what we are learning will have an immediate, signficant, maybe even life-alterating effect on others in the relatively near future. For me, this marked shift from previous educational experiences seems like a big, perhaps too often glossed-over transition. That is not to say I didn't see this coming long ago - soothsaying and double-negatives are two of my hobbies - but I still think the distinction warrants mentioning.

In high school, some people may undergo fundamental intellectual changes, as they begin to think more abstractly and independently without necessarily allowing teachers or other authority figures to dictate their conclusions. Yet despite all this wonderful personal and intellectual growth, the main scholastic endgame is a golden ticket to the highly-coveted next round: college, and hopefully a good or great one at that. For a lot of students, the academic part of the high school years is less about truly learning and more about getting the grades and SAT/ACT/SATII/ACT3/PSAT9 scores to climb the ladder of undergraduate tiers and get as high up as possible. Though obviously not the only, or even most important, measure of success, getting into a good college still remains a landmark achievement that many identify as the primary educational goal of their upperclass years.

Once you reach Eden University, with its manicured lawns, red-brick quads, flowing fountains, and more libraries than one could ever imagine, then what? Do you learn for learning's sake and explore a whole new intellectual world whose vivacity tickles you deep within your knowledge loins? Maybe you do (or even should). Or maybe you, like countless overs have before, find yourself in the next race, working towards another weighty, seemingly nebulous yet arguably life-changing achievement four more years down the road - med school. That'll be a profound, baby-saving party that won't quit, right? Actually, yeah, it very well could be all that and a bag a Fritos.

Yet because reaching that goal can be challenging, your college time might be spent working towards similar grade/score ambitions that might occasionally force actual learning to the back-burner out of sheer practicality. This isn't necessarily bad. It's hard to do well enough in college to get into medical school, and sometimes, where learning best and improving a grade aren't 100% compatible, it makes sense to favor the latter for the time being. For many, paving the road to the next step is more important than appreciating or learning from every noteworthy stop along the way. Besides, there will be time to catch up on things that were missed or glossed over, and even what's been well-internalized will require quite a bit of brushing up in 1-2 years. So, even if one isn't completely sacrificing learning at the alter of the almighty 'A', a bit of a compromise is sometimes made en route to the ultimate goal.

BUT, once in med school, things actually matter. Sure, grades and scores remain important, but skating through important material with only a mind for H/P/F/whatever may leave students unprepared for the clinical applications that are fast approaching. In college, one could feasily put off O-chem and only do enough to get by in the class. Even the BS MCAT section doesn't require any particularly in-depth O-chem knowledge. In med school, we can't just ignore microbiology and expect it never to pop up in the future. Sure, one might pass the class without knowing all the important details, but the difference is that, sooner rather than later, this stuff is going to be of practical, unavoidable importance. Perhaps this is no big revelation for most people, but I'd argue it represents a fundamental difference in the educational endgame and significantly changes the required approach to the curriculum. This is simultaneously awesome ("Hey, this stuff actually means something now") and maybe even a bit daunting ("Hm, if I don't learn this, there will be real consequences for other people"). Or, perhaps, everyone knows and takes this concept for granted, and I'm just slow enough to find it worth discussing.

Hopefully, this is food for thought. As long as it's not Moroccan food. Excuse me, can I get a fork...

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