The Beauty of Ignorance

It’s rather unquestioned at this point that college is the source of knowledge. It’s the place one goes to discover themselves through newfound information, and the beacon of intellectual achievement. The college experience is the rare landscape where academic exploration is not only accepted, it’s encouraged. To put it simply: “Girls (and boys) go to college to get more knowledge.”

But contrary to this perception, my college experience at Drake hasn’t been so much the discovery of knowledge, but more so the discovery of ignorance. My ignorance. Because I was a precocious (okay, annoying) kid, I believed if I just completed a checklist of reading materials, I would know it all. I would be educated. It’s taken me maybe my whole educational career to realize that I could read every book in the Western cannon and still have so, so much more to read. No matter how much I learn, there will only be a boatload more that I don’t know. And though I initially saw this ignorance as a hurdle to overcome, as a problem to be fixed, I’ve come to revel in it. The fact is, ignorance can be a beautiful thing.

I’m not saying we should all strive for stupidity or give up learning new things. Actually, quite the opposite. Becoming aware of how much I don’t know is the best thing that could’ve happened to me academically. In my last semester of college, I now know that a checklist of courses isn’t going to complete my knowledge. Thus, I’m free to learn and explore as much as I possibly can. I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity presented to me, and perhaps especially ones that emphasize my ignorance and challenge my abilities. So I’m taking classes this semester about African colonialism, Renaissance women, and European nationalism. In short, things I know nothing about. But, I’m learning, I’m working hard. And at the end of the semester, I’ll know a little more than I did before. I’m embracing the ignorance, even as I strive to eradicate it.

J-term @ Drake

It’s only fitting that in the grips of Iowa’s frigid winter, I should delve into the Cold War.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been immersed in my j-term class, The Cold War Through Film. We’ve looked at various films that describe and characterize Cold War history and culture to gain a better understanding of the period, and its politics and ideology. And yes, what I’m saying is that we got to watch movies in class every day.

But honestly, the class, like all j-term courses at Drake, was a cool opportunity for me to step outside of my academic comfort zone and do something different, something interesting and challenging. I decided to take the class primarily because of my sketchy knowledge of Cold War history. I wanted to learn, and learn I did. We started with end of World War II and moved through history all the way to the late 80s, completing readings and lectures that described historical events and watching complementary films that portrayed history in unique ways. Some of the films I’d seen before (Platoon, Apocalypse Now, War Games,) and others I hadn’t (The Manchurian Candidate, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Red Dawn.) But each one was enlightening and helped us all think critically about the reality of the Cold War. And spoiler alert: The United States is not always the good guy.

The fact is, I’m leaving the class with a new appreciation of Cold War history and the ways in which economics, culture, and international relations are linked throughout American history. I’m a more critical consumer of the U.S. politics and political rhetoric. And in general, I’ve come to think carefully about the messages I’m given through culture and history. Isn’t that kind of what college is all about?

To learn more about j-term at Drake, check out the full list of on-campus and travel seminars here.

The Last Registration

Today I did something pretty crazy: I registered for my final semester of classes at Drake University. Okay, so maybe crazy is a relative term. But honestly, it’s hard to believe that I’m nearing the end of my college career and selecting the courses that will cement my Drake education. And yet, here I am. In the grand tradition of senior year nostalgia, it’s only natural that my last registration should cause me to reflect on all my previous registration periods. The stress, the worry, the late night snacks, and the early morning cramming, praying to get first pick of classes have all come flooding back. And in this reflection, two things have become clear:

I’m still the same student I always was.

Planning for the long-term has never been my strong suit, so picking out classes months in advance has always been a little counter-intuitive. Nonetheless, I acquiesce to the demands of higher education bureaucracy by planning and plotting, projecting and outlining my courses months, and even years, ahead of time. But that doesn’t mean it will necessarily go smoothly, and in fact, it never has. Once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator. And that I certainly am. I will inevitably wait until the last moments to pick out courses, thereby leaving my future in the hands of a sleep-deprived version of myself high on sugar and pure panic. And yet, it always turns out okay. I’m not saying I won’t eventually face the impetus of change, forcing me to responsibly plan out my life decisions, but that day is not today. Mac Miller once said “I Am Who I Am”, just as Popeye told us “I Yam What I Yam.” I stand by both of these gentleman as the same person I was when I began my Drake journey four years ago.

And yet, I’m so much different.

I started the process of registering for classes at Drake with my checklists in hand. I knew what I needed to take to get my two degrees and thought of little else than following my prescribed course listings. Now in my senior year, that outlook is almost unfathomable. I’m not saying that the courses dictated by my majors aren’t essential, helpful, and enlightening, because they are. But what I’ve come to realize is that the best learning experiences I’ve had at Drake have come from me pushing boundaries and stepping outside my academic comfort zone. So these days, the checklist is less of a rulebook and more of a guide. This semester, I’ve chosen courses that will challenge me and force me grow, courses I probably never would have picked for myself four years ago. I’ll be tackling subjects such as colonialism in Africa, women in the Renaissance, European Nationalism, and magazine production, not necessarily because I have to take them, but because I want to. Because I’m genuinely excited for my last chance to soak up all the Drake knowledge I can. And yeah, that might be the definition of a nerd, but I think it’s also the definition of personal, professional, and academic growth. So, there.

In Defense of University Liberal Arts

The joke is a familiar one: University liberal arts provide students the opportunity to grow uselessly knowledgeable about esoteric (usually left-leaning) subjects all while pouring thousands of dollars the drain. Okay, I didn’t say it was a particularly funny joke. But as someone who entered into college a devout English major at Drake, you better believe I’ve heard all the criticism before. Things like ”Why are you paying to read books? Wouldn’t a business degree be more helpful? So are you a socialist now? Who even cares about these old dead guys?” Although that last question has the hint of a valid point, overall, I’ve dismissed these challenges because I believed firmly in the value of my liberal arts education. And as a senior, I now stand vindicated in my beliefs. I mean, I haven’t gotten a job yet, so maybe I should hold off on the parade, but I do believe my humanities education has served me pretty well so far.

The thing is that as a Drake English major, I don’t learn facts or readings or poems or even novels. I learn new ways to think about the world around me. I’ve had my notions challenged, and have grown as a person because of it. I know the term “critical thinking” is a buzzword or sorts that gets thrown around a lot these days, but my Drake humanities classes really have helped me to critically consume information and express my thoughts about it. Although I don’t want to disparage the benefits of professionally-targeted degrees (I am also a journalism major after all), I know that because I chose to study liberal arts, I can now look at things from different points of view instead of just one. I’ve experienced philosophy, gender theory, history, politics, pop culture, science, classic literature, sociology, and a whole lot more in my Drake classes.

Because I’ve had these educational opportunities, I feel like I’m more engaged in the world. I’m a better citizen, a better person, and I’m even infinitely more prepared to enter the real world after college. It may sound counterintuitive, but my humanities classes are the reason I can problem solve, empathize, communicate with others, and approach issues from new perspectives. I’m not saying that I’ll get a job because I’ve studied the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, but I am saying the skills I used to read, understand, and discuss Heidegger should serve me well in whatever my future endeavors are.

So my advice? Study the liberal arts in some way, shape, or form. I was lucky because at Drake it’s easy to pick up a double major. I’ve gotten both some great practical experience from being a journalism student and all the other benefits of my English degree. But whatever the situation, just take liberal arts classes you’re interested in, even if, and especially if, they’re something new and challenging. I promise, it’ll serve you well in the long run. And as to those people who criticize your foray into the humanities? Well in the words of another brilliant philosopher, Miss Taylor Swift, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate.”