Thursday, March 20, 2008

Stay Classy

On your first day in prison, they say you’re supposed to find and beat up the biggest guy in the yard, as it lets everyone else know that you’re not one to be intimidated or messed with. Well, school is rather similar, and the biggest guy in the yard is always the teacher. The best way to beat him up is to make a good first impression, which is usually accomplished by being the first to raise your hand when he calls for volunteers.

Now, volunteering to speak in front of a bunch of strangers isn’t one of my favorite things to do in the world, but in this case, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I am the second oldest “kid” in class (I walked by some guy on campus and he called me “sir” as if I was a professor), but since the “old guy” hardly comes to class, I’ve inherited the title. I’m not interested in impressing a bunch of 18-year-olds but I am interested in getting a good grade. And I've also taken into consideration that this is a small college, so the odds are good I'm going to have this professor again as the semesters roll by.

On our first day of class, we were each given an object of which we needed to sketch a few views and make a presentation in front of the class about our object and our drawing. The professor specifically said to come up with a story about your object, giving it a history, a purpose and a reason why it should be produced. I was given what looked like a bookend, so that’s what I called it, a bookend. I sketched up the three views I needed to accurately describe it and I was ready to present it in front of the 30 or so other students in my class. In fact, I was going to volunteer when he called for it. At the beginning of the exercise, he said that he would ask for volunteers, so why not? My plan was to show him that I am a serious student.

Unfortunately, my moment never arrived because he just went up and down the rows calling on each person in the order as they sat. Before the first person gave his presentation, I was anxious about being a student in college again. I was surrounded mostly by young kids who should be looking to make a mark on the world, fresh from 12 years of education. I thought that I would have to work hard to give them a run for the A+, but frankly, I’m very disappointed in kids these days. No drive, no ambition, no pride, no concentration or appreciation for the chance to get a degree. I was expecting eloquent presentations with details and creativity, perhaps even some humor. I expected my fellow classmates to put some thought in their first assignment, and that they would come up with interesting stories for their objects…and I expected some quality drawing. For God's sake, this is an drafting class...drawing people!

I fretted on my drawing, taking two or three times longer than I probably should, and by the time I set down my pencil, I had a whole spiel prepared and rehearsed in my head. I knew exactly what I was going to say from start to finish. The first guy that got up there said something like this, and I’m not exaggerating: “Um. This is my object. Uh. I don’t know what it is. Um. Here’s my drawing. There’s this view, and I drew this view and then this view. Duh.” He looks a professor to signal that he has nothing further to add, and then goes to sit down. That's it, perhaps all of 10 seconds from the time he lowered his already slack jaw until the time he completely switched off his brain.

I was dumbfounded. This is the product of the American education? “I don’t know what my object is.” The assignment was to come up with a story, make up something, be creative, have the initiative to think, for once. Certainly, he was a fluke. The dumbest guy in all the county was sitting in the front left-hand side and just by luck, he go picked to go first. I was sure that he would soon be taken away by official looking people who would appologize to the rest of us, shrugging their shoulders as to how he managed to wander in to our class and pretend to learn. Yes, certainly the rest would be much better...after all, this is college!

But it wasn't! They were all like that, with only two or three exceptions (one guy called his object a marble holder to hold your most favorite of marbles).

How disappointing, and it was at that moment that I knew I would rule the class. Each of the successive presentations followed this similar format, as the first guy set the bar quite low. Some didn't even say their names, most all didn't have a name for their object, and every single one of them stood up there like their mothers were out in the audience making them do it--hands stuffed in their pockets, awkwardly looking at the professor for approval, mumbling through the presentation and then quickly making an exit like someone tossed a grenade onto the platform.

When I got up there, I told them what I did for a living, about my object being a bookend, and I even suggested that it would be better suited as a CD bookend...and I even added an eight-track joke before I remembered that most all of them weren't yet born when eight-tracks were popular and probably wouldn't know what to do with a record or a cassette tape much less an eight-track. I concluded that my bookend would be machined out of a solid block of aluminum and could be most any color. My presentation time was about a minute and a half, almost two easy minutes talking to a bunch of blank-staring, empty-headed kids who are doing their time because they think they have to.

College, it seems, is a natural progression out of high school, and I think that most of the kids that go to college these days do so becasue they think they should, as if high school just got four years longer. There would probably be a good argument against half of those kids even being there, and I've now decided that 18 years old is too young to be responsible enough to value what a college education should be. I say four years in the military first, grow up a little, then let the GI Bill pay your way. Then again, get off my lawn!

I returned to my desk quite proud of myself. Not only was my presentation a step above everyone else’s, but my sketch was even better. I don’t want to pat myself on the back too much, but Gnat has scribbled better stuff with her left hand on a piece of cardboard with a broke open ketchup packet, and it seemed that I was the only one that put some time and thought behind it.

So, that’s how it’s going to be. I see. The class is full of slackers who will only invest in the barest of minimums to get by... and then it is even a gamble that they'll get by. Of course, it helps if you show up to class. When we started the first day, every desk was taken. Now, you're lucky if you see a full row. This is a picture of the Applied Technology Building (called "ATech" by the cool kids.) My class is on the left.

Then a strange phenomenon happened that I had never experienced when I was getting my degree those many moons ago: The room started to empty out. I swear, after his lectures, we start losing people right and left, like the boat is sinking and nobody wants to say anything so they just start jumping overboard to save themselves. We have assignments to do and everyone should be working on them, but they just pack up their stuff and quietly slip out the backdoor. When I was at Cal Poly, a 55-minute class lasted... wait for it… 55 minutes, and it was unheard of for anyone to just get up and leave in the middle of it. At Cal Poly, all of my classes were lecture based and I never had a working lab class that involved independent time management with a list of assignments so maybe I don’t know how it really works, but by 9pm, 50 minutes before class was supposed to officially end, there were only three of us left.

What continues to surprise me is the lack of motivation and ambition these kids have. I understand that there are “better” things to do than sit in class, but where is the drive to succeed and the will to make the effort to at least try for a good grade. I get to class around 5:30, and I’m the first one there, so much so that there are still people doing work from the previous class… and I’m usually the last of two or three people to stay there. Everyone else just drifts away sometime in the night. At the second class, the girl next to me just sat there for two hours, just sat there, doing absolutely nothing. I couldn’t believe it. She just at there staring at the back of the head of the guy in front of her. Oh well. Perhaps in 15 years, they’ll learn their lesson, as there were many classes in college that I skipped out on.

As I’m sitting at my drafting table, working on my first official assignment, the professor came over to me and started to chat about my “day job,” why I was taking classes and how I was liking it so far. We had a drafting equipment rep visit the class to explain all of the tools we would need to complete the class (as it is an intro drafting class), and he came over and joined our conversation.

The three of us talked for about 45 minutes about the world of drafting, architecture and school. I was surprised to make such an impression, but I think of it has a lot to do with my age as I'm closer to his age than I am to any of the other students. Since then, I’ve been the teacher’s pet, so to speak. After one lecture, he came over and asked me, “How was that?” as if I was qualified to judge his lecture, and he usually skips me when he does is walk around to see how everyone is progressing. I'm not exactly sure what experience he thinks I have, but he makes frequent comments to me like, "it's easy if you've done it before," and "I can't imagine you'd have any trouble with this."

But how am I doing? I’m on my 14th assignment (10 points each), and so far, I’ve only lost two points out of the total possible…and those were because I had two lines that weren't dark enough. On the other hand, I’ve made up for those two missed points with 20 points of extra credit assignments. On the first quiz, I scored 100 percent, but the one I just had tonight, I think I missed a point… unless he decides that my answer was just ambiguous enough to be correct, which is one of the reasons I enjoy written tests. If you don't know the correct answer, you can answer the question three or four different ways and hope for the best.

We’ll see, but overall I am thoroughly enjoying myself, and the prospect of furthering my education is still as exciting as when I first started. In fact, this Saturday afternoon, I’m meeting with the professor of the next class I want to take to discuss the textbook and the class structure. It’s called being proactive, as I haven’t even registered for the class yet. The professor I’m meeting with teaches architectural history, and I tried to register for her class for this current semester, but it was full by the time I was able to register. I emailed her and asked how the process of adding a class worked, and of course, I took it as the opportunity to tell her a little bit about me and how I'm a returning student, etc., etc. A couple of weeks ago, she emailed me to ask if I would still like to add her class as she wanted to get a couple people that were for sure going to do well...she emailed me! Unfortunately, I got the email after the last day to add (it was emailed to my student account, which I didn’t check) so I couldn't add it. Instead, she invited me to sit in on her class on Saturday so I could get an idea of what it is like.

So, there you have it. I’m a student again, and this time around, I’m much better at it. It is amazing what a few years will do.


Anonymous said...

Ryan -

Congratulations - this is a pretty big step - I am happy for you.

I have a few times returned to Cal Poly for a couple of Pasadena-based classes and have found much of the same enthusiasm as you have, but have come to slightly different conclusions confirmed (at least for me) at the Art Center College of Design graduation last spring - that is that the lack of interest is actually a symptom of "Arrogant Naivet� that will result in the undermining of art, design and learning.

I will also give you a word of advice regarding the current state of architecture � you are going to have to reconcile your beliefs regarding Global Warming. All architecture and deign is now based on a fundamental premise that Global Warming DOES exist and that design and sustainability are tools in the quiver by which man can lessen his impact on the planet. In fact, to really take advantage of this new opportunity, embrace the concept fully and become a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited professional.

Robert M

outsidetheberm said...

Great post, Ryan. If you've ever seen the original 'Time Machine' movie, you might recognize these young beings as the true 'Eloy' of today. And for a *real* experience, you should try teaching them!

outsidetheberm said...

Great post, Ryan. If you've ever seen the original 'Time Machine' movie, you might recognize these young beings as the true 'Eloy' of today. And for a *real* experience, you should try teaching them!

Ryan or Kara said...

The Eloy Generation... maybe the moniker will stick as it seems very appropriate.

"Thousands of years of building and rebuilding, creating and recreating so you can let it crumble to dust. A million years of sensitive men dying for their dreams... for what? So you can swim and dance and play."

Yes indeed, Eloy, where does the fruit come from and where do you go when the horn sounds?


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