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.

Drake Professors

I came to college expecting to see a lot more old men with elbow patches and bow ties. In my mind, that’s what professors looked like. As the representatives of academia, I figured professors must feature a full head of wispy grey hair, become know for their strictness, and present lectures to the class every day. In fact, if the film Flubber taught me anything (and it taught me a lot), it was that I could expect to learn from brilliant, absent-minded professionals in the world of higher education. And honestly, I was prepared to encounter some figures a lot less fun than Robin Williams.

The great scientific/comedic hero, Robin Williams. Image via Flickr

The great scientific/comedic hero, Robin Williams. Image via Flickr

Turns out, at Drake at least, there’s rarely a bow tie in sight (unless as a trendy fashion statement). Despite my expectations, many of my professors are (gasp!) female and many (double gasp!) aren’t very old at all. Some of the Drake professors I’ve encountered might be categorized as the brilliant, absent-minded intellectual type, but for the most part, the people teaching in the university are professionals themselves. Because they’ve worked in the field they’re teaching, they give us practical knowledge, not just esoteric musings.

As for the strictness, not so much at Drake. My professors expect a lot out of their students and push them to succeed, but they’re also pretty relatable, understanding humans. And in my three years at Drake, I’ve had a grand total of two lecture-based classes. The rest are collaborative learning processes built on discussion.

But I’m also not saying that I’ve loved every single professor I’ve ever had at Drake. And honestly, it reflects well on the university that I haven’t. There’s a lot of different types of educators here teaching in a lot of different types of ways. Drake recognizes that I learn from certain methods and personalities really well whereas other students may not. With this philosophy, the university serves as a microcosm of the changing face of academia. It’s no longer just old white men, lecturing, but a lot of really interesting, varied people using diverse methods to help students learn. Because of this, I’m getting so many different types of learning experiences, many of which far exceed the confines of a lecture hall or textbook.

So, yes, what I’m telling you is that Drake University is not very much like Flubber. But who knows? Maybe there is some frizzy haired, bow tie wearing, absent-minded professor experimenting with green goop in the depths of Harvey Ingham Hall. Honestly, with the huge variety of educators here, it wouldn’t surprise me.

New Books, Y’all!

Big news: I got some new books. (I’ll pause for a moment to give everybody time to process their flurry of emotions upon this revelation.) But, for real, I’m pretty psyched. Every semester, I look over the book list for my classes and immediately become filled with promise for the months ahead. With so many interesting things to read and learn, how could the semester be anything other than amazing? Sometimes the trials of university life bring me down a little bit from my book high as the classes progress, but right now, I’m feelin’ good.

Just so you guys don’t think I’m a total crazy nerd, I get excited about cool things too. Like buying new notebooks. And pens. Whoop whoop!

I think it’s a testament to how exciting my Drake education is that I am genuinely pumped to get new books. So as the second semester of my junior year kicks off today, it’s reassuring to know that I’m still not sick of learning. I’m still excited for the opportunities presented in every class I take. And I still love Drake. Maybe this will all change as I enter into next year. Yet, I have a sneaky felling I’ll still love it just as much as ever.

In Theory

Michel Foucault. It’s a name that strikes fear into the hearts of a lot of undergraduates. He’s the Voldemort of the humanities in that he can be kind of the worst, but we also wouldn’t really be ourselves without him. And, yes, that comparison may be a little extreme. I sincerely doubt Foucault ever said “avada kedavra” in his entire life, but he is scary because his work is dense, wide-ranging, and full of it’s own language of terms and lingo. And, yet, the man was definitely brilliant, and in a lot of ways, the biggest influence on modern humanities studies.

The text for Literary Theory Class. Yep, it's kind of intense.

The text for Literary Theory Class. Yep, it’s kind of intense.

This semester, I’ve gotten the chance to study Foucault and many others through my literary theory and criticism class. And while many groan merely at the thought of literary theory, I absolutely love it. The class experience has been the quintessential example of why I came to Drake: a brilliant professor teaching something I’m really passionate about with a small enough class that I can have a really active role in class discussions. Starting with the ancient Greeks, we’ve moved through the history of literary study examining the works of theorist from Virginia Woolf to Edward Said. And I’ve learned absolutely a ton along the way.

I’m so grateful for this experience partially because I may not get many others like it. Since I won’t be able to go to grad school, I’m counting on my Drake classes to present me with some of the higher level studies I’d otherwise be missing. The base of literary knowledge I’ve gained in this class has informed the way I see the arts and even content in my other classes. It’s good stuff to know. Also just so that if I ever go to a super-hip artsy dinner party I can join in the conversation with a Marxist reading of The Great Gatsby or something. (Clearly I’ve never been to one of those parties, but I’m assuming there are people in knit hats by the vegan food table talking about such things).

But honestly, this class has presented me with more that just fuel for snobby dinner parties. I’ve gained real knowledge in that I’ve had to work really hard to understand some of the content, but it’s been more than worth it. I’ve seen myself challenged in new ways in English studies and as a result, I know I’ve grown as a student and a thinker. And sorry if that sounds like a lame motivational poster for never giving up on learning, but it’s true. This is one class where I’m just really excited to go learn, even if that learning involves a certain long-winded fellow named Foucault.

Neil Ty, The Science Guy

Collegiate life provides some pretty stellar opportunities to meet great minds and learn from powerful figures in the global academic community. And when those same figures just happen to have their own meme, well, that’s just pretty awesome.

This week marked the latest in the Bucksbaum Lecture Series at Drake where influential figures in a wide variety of fields come to campus to speak to students, faculty, and members of the Des Moines community. In past lectures, I’ve seen Vicente Fox, Garrison Keillor, and one of my personal heroes, Jimmy Carter. So for a small school in Iowa, we do certainly attract some world-class names. Tuesday’s talk presented the famed astrophysicist and pop culture icon, Neil deGrasse Tyson.  While astrophysics may not seem like the most marketable subject matter on a campus full of 20-somethings, it was actually a really huge deal.

Every student I talked to was just genuinely really excited for Tyson to speak. And that excitement manifested itself in a packed house in the Knapp Center…I mean really packed. People were standing. To hear a guy talk about astrophysics. Even today, the general topic of conversation on campus was what Tyson had to say. Naturally, his speech was geared toward a more general audience, but still, students were pumped to hear about science and its cultural implications.

While this event illustrated the power of intellectual curiosity on this campus and the authenticity of the learners here, it also marked a good step forward for the university in terms of diversity of learning. Sometimes in academia, especially in a liberal arts environment, we get so focused in that we lose the larger context around us. Drake is increasingly trying to break us of that habit by ensuring that we have a wide array of academic experiences. In that vein, I put aside my literary theory and writing assignments to hear a little about science, and it was a lot of fun. But diversity extends beyond subject matter, it’s also about those who are presenting the talks. While I’ve been at Drake, we’ve had a solid array of speakers from various backgrounds and perspectives. However, I think more can, and will, be done to expand our horizons. Following the success of Tyson’s lecture, I’m hoping for a female presenter next and maybe someone from the humanities. Whoever’s next, they’ll definitely be another great hallmark in the Drake experience.