Education Outside the Classroom
You know, they should really switch commencement and Orientation. For four years, you could look back on the words uttered by some famous person in a cap and gown whenever you needed some inspiration, and you could look forward to all the cool activities you now do as a freshmen. But such is the educational system....
Anyway, on to more important topics. Just as the books are more important than the book ends, what’s really important now is what you do with the four years between the Hitchhiker’s Guide and the diploma. So what will you do?
You’ve been told ever since you can remember that college is the place to get a good education. And it has been implicitly stated by parents, teachers, and the media that studying is the only way to get this education. You’ve listened to these voices for so long you damned the Institute when you first got here for only allowing you to take four classes (four-and-a-half if you’re smart). Now MIT is telling you that you will be a successful student only if you follow the course curriculum. That’s not the best way to develop students into informed, responsible citizens. As a wise anti-imperialist once said, “Never let your schoolwork get in the way of your education.” I think he had a point.
What I’ve experienced is that MIT, and college in general, has a tendency to isolate its students from the rest of the world. Freshmen coming to MIT are already quite focused on academics, and the Institute does little to broaden the perspective of the average student. And though the administration may not intend for this to happen, the sheer volume of work can make any student focus strictly on his or her workload. What’s particularly disconcerting is how the lack of perspective usually continues on after graduation. If you’re not careful, your life will become fairly standard: work hard to get a degree to get a good job to get a promotion to support a good family to send good kids to a good college.
You will have fun though. Before college ends there will be friends and parties, sports and activities of various kinds; enough distraction to keep you sane, but it’s still all relatively within the closed college structure. The only steady stream of the outside world that students seem to get are the articles reprinted in The Tech, and then from such a questionable news source as the Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times. But what’s my point?
My point is that beyond the Athena clusters, beyond the textbooks and teachers, there is a world out there, and now is the time to find out what it’s about. Before you grow up and have to worry about kids, mortgages, cars, jobs, before your excuses subdue you more and more into hopeless apathy, you owe it to yourself and to society to become informed about world issues. Yes, society.
You are the intellectuals. You are the ones with the ability to look critically at world issues, the determination to find the truth in the mass of lies, and the credibility to be taken seriously (you go to MIT.) But you also have a responsibility to use these attributes to improve the world, and it can use improvement.
The integrity of our natural environment continues to be threatened by human encroachment. The increasing nuclear stockpiles of first and third world countries still represent a clear and present danger for everyone on the planet. People around the world are still dying by the millions, from war, from malnutrition, from lack of medicine (though I’m not trying to be biblical, a careful look at the state of the world would give you that impression). The middle class is shrinking as the lower class is growing. America has the largest per capita prison population in the world. The oppression of women and minorities in society is as present as ever.
But how are you supposed to do anything about all this? Your Course VI classes never address these issues, let alone give you the tools to do anything about them. And it’s true that MIT can be a large obstacle, but it can also be used to your advantage. There are departments and programs within MIT that give students the opportunity to see how MIT and technology fit into society. There are opportunities to study abroad and learn first-hand about the world outside Cambridge. There are professors on this campus that have been struggling with these issues for decades. There are groups of students that see the same problems and struggle to fix them.
Whatever you do, remember that the world’s problems will not vanish if not confronted.