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Sunday, November 23, 2014


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COLUMN: We are way too old to say 'My dog ate my homework'






Most of us are familiar with the feeling of endless pages of assigned reading looming over our heads. Like any college kid, some nights, I make the executive decision to leave my textbooks in my backpack.

Sometimes it’s because I’m overwhelmed with other exams or papers.

Sometimes, it’s because I work long hours and know a hot shower or a few extra hours of sleep are necessary for my sanity.

And sometimes, yeah, I choose to go out with friends, or stay in with Frank Underwood, binge watching House of Cards.

But for the first time in four years of study at MSU, I’m less inclined to write it off by saying everybody does it.

At the start of the semester, I signed up for a class that explored men and women in the developing world. As a young journalist with dreams of becoming a foreign correspondent, it seemed like the perfect elective.

We break down issues affecting the third world countries I’d only read about in The New York Times. It’s a discussion-based course, meaning twice a week we have the chance to share our opinions in an open forum and not just sit through a two-hour PowerPoint lecture.

The problem is, the dog seems to have eaten everybody’s homework.

At least, that’s what I can’t help but assume when we spend every Monday and Wednesday afternoon staring blankly at one another until someone offers up a generic response to fill an awkward silence.

I couldn’t believe it. At most, we have two or three academic articles or chapters from the textbook to read for each class period. It’s a 400-level course, occupied entirely by juniors and seniors, so that doesn’t seem like a tall order to me.

Not to mention, why sign up for a current issues course if you have no interest in...current issues?

Just like that, the dream elective I’d been so excited about became the drag of my week. In fact, I took to skipping the class more than I should have, which I know is both ironic and more than a little hypocritical. I just couldn’t help but feel I was wasting my time and energy being one of only a handful of students who bothered to come prepared for an productive discussion.

I’d resigned myself to this negative thinking until last week, when I caught up with an old friend over a cup of coffee. I spent a few minutes complaining about my experience in this class, and then my friend told me she knew exactly where I was coming from, launching into a similar tirade about her peers in one of her courses.

The friend in question is a fisheries and wildlife major who spends her free time studying wild bears in Yosemite or observing the behavior of salmon in remote parts of Alaska. Not exactly something I can relate to, but it’s her passion.

Our conversation made me realize I needed to get off of my high horse.

Yes, it’s frustrating when you’re invested in something your classmates don’t care much about. But I couldn’t help but look back at my own behavior in some of my university-required ISS or IAH courses, or even other electives that turned out to be duds.

I can’t say I made reading assignments for those classes a priority. Which means that for other students in the class, I was contributing to the same problem I’m now facing — an apathy for academics that don’t spark my interest or directly apply to my future.

Karma, it turns out, is a bitch.

I’m not excusing the people in my class right now, but I’m also not excusing myself.

The bottom line is when you don’t care about a course, everyone else in the classroom — including your professor — knows it. You’re actually hindering the experience of the people who do show up ready to learn something.

And beyond that, you’re hindering yourself. Just because a class doesn’t directly apply to your major doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. Not only is college a chance to explore new subjects and interests, but a well-rounded education benefits all of us in the long run.

Even if you do wind up in a class you don’t care for, ultimately, remember education itself is a privilege. You’re likely paying more than $1,000 to be there. You might as well show up, and if you do show up, you might as well have something worthwhile to say.

Don’t be the person who says we can solve the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa by “raising awareness,” because you skipped out on the readings about international aid organizations.

Don’t be the person who scrolls through Instagram on your phone or goes to the bathroom three times a class period because you can’t answer any of the questions the professor is posing.

And especially don’t be the person who neglects group projects or in-class assignments. Your name is being put on something you weren’t prepared for and likely didn’t contribute to, and there’s nothing more frustrating to those who did come ready to work.

We can make our educational experiences better for all involved by understanding that when we blow off schoolwork, we’re not the only ones caught in the fallout.

So the next time you’re tempted to skip the required reading and stay silent in class discussion, think of the person who is there because they’re passionate about everything they know they can discover. Because chances are, you’ve been that person in another classroom, during another semester.

And you never know. You just might learn something.

Celeste Bott is the State News digital managing editor. Reach her at cbott@statenews.com.


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