Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wasting a Week of Time

Today's second column:

The main point of education is not, as is commonly thought, to instill knowledge in the individual. That is a desired consequence of the process, but it is a secondary one. As one of the founders of the public school system once let slip, the system exists for the “subsumption of the individual”. This warrants thought as we examine week long orientation, which the freshmen have recently survived.

As I hearken back to my orientation week, my first reaction is one of mild repugnance, recounting the vapid boredom which hung, like a rain cloud, over that entire week. We were awoken too early; we were allowed to return to our rooms too late. Our free time was scarcely sufficient to allow for a simple game of Madden with a new roommate. Instead, we marched, or rather slogged, from sunup to sundown, as the wiser OTLs impressed upon us such enlightened bits of information as that: ramen noodles are not part of a well-balanced diet (obviously one must supplement with vitamins); it is not necessary to imbibe in alcohol in order to have a good time (though it helps immensely, especially during orientation week); getting involved is a good way to meet people (as is raiding with one's clan in WoW); that one should spend two hours studying for every hour spent in class (this is ridiculous; does it still apply if one does not attend class?).

And so on and so forth: platitudes upon platitudes, of which anyone with half a brain was well aware from probably second grade onward. Perhaps there are those who believe that staying up until 5am is a good way to insure attendance during 8am lecture, but such people are beyond the reach of reason. Alas, there are those who are simply not cut out for the education which Tech provides, and the institution is wise to send those packing who prove unable to hack general chemistry. It remains unclear what a week of orientation could provide that say, a two-day affair could not.

But of those who will eventually graduate from Michigan Tech: how does week long orientation serve them? It inculcates a sense of order, a we-say you-do mentality. And, it must be said, this is beneficial from Tech's standpoint. While engineers who do not question are not engineers, engineers who do not comply with orders are difficult to manage. Although there will be entrepreneurial exceptions, the vast majority of Tech graduates will work as cogs, albeit sophisticated ones, in various corporate wheels. Orientation week is good practice for the endless meetings, endlessly caricatured in Dilbert cartoons.

The biggest objection to a week of orientation is the same objection I have to formal education in general. By making education compulsory we make it that less desirable to those who are intellectually curious. May those lucky few who have not lost it already, retain it despite orientation week and four years at Tech.

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