My alarm blares at 8:30 a.m., and I crack open groggy eyes. Although I am a self-described morning person, I don’t exactly leap out of bed with a rush of excitement to start a new day. After getting ready at the speed of a drugged sloth lounging about in molasses, I trudge through the wind and snow to class, grasping weakly at the hazy memory of the reading I skimmed the previous night for my literature seminar.
I suspect my experience is one all college students share, and, I fear, many students don’t even make it out of bed at all for that first class of the day. But so many of us, as we are frequently reminded, are paying a ridiculously large sum of money to be at Notre Dame—or, at least, our parents are. Doesn’t it seem to be worth making it out of bed to attend every class?
If my calculations are correct, (and I allow for the fact that they might not be, given that math has never been my strong suit) we pay nearly $160 for each hour of class we attend at Notre Dame. If we skip class to sleep late or to play video games or to binge-watch Netflix, we are, in essence, paying $160 for those activities we choose over the pursuit of learning. Is it worth it? Probably not.
A few weeks ago, visiting scholar Robert Anderson discussed similar themes in an Observer Viewpoint entitled “An embarrassment of riches,” in which he lamented Notre Dame students’ lack of interest in the intellectual life of campus.
“Profess the life of the mind while looking the other way as students look askance at that life and witness a gradual shut-down of the very idea—purpose—of a university,” Anderson concluded.
The university is currently embroiled in a debate over the composition of our core curriculum, but it seems that most students don’t care about the conversation or even know it’s taking place. The ongoing discussion of the core, once vibrantly kept alive by passionate faculty members, has simmered down since the release of the Core Curriculum Review Committee’s draft recommendations, which contained elements that seem to have pacified each department with minor concessions.
But while the recommendations appear to have thrown a bone to just about everyone with a horse in this race, what they lack is a substantive idea of what it is that a core curriculum is meant to provide. Why is the college student seeking a degree and, more importantly, why is the Notre Dame student doing so at this particular institution? Why do we, or our parents, write a check each semester to the university to pay our professors’ salaries (and the Campus Crossroads construction costs)? Are we simply here, as Anderson suggested, to punch the ticket that will secure our first consulting job or place us on the fast-track to a CEO position 20 years down the road? Or are we here to pursue an education that we couldn’t find anywhere else?
Though Notre Dame students undoubtedly care about receiving high grades—and certainly spend considerable time in the library to achieve those scores—I’ve yet to see any strong indication that most of us understand the why behind these goals and activities. It often appears that we study solely for the sake of our final marks, getting our paper-writing and quiz-taking out of the way Sunday through Wednesday so we can proceed to parties and bars on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
Obtaining a college degree used to be something undertaken only by those who had a calling to pursue a certain field of study, but now it’s the presumed next step for every graduating high school senior in this career-oriented world. So much so that one presidential candidate appears to think that we need to make public college education free for everyone.
But no one has the right to a college degree (much less a free one), and not everyone needs a college degree, especially not if that degree is earned by jumping through hoops in classes chosen primarily for their relative ease in order to score inflated grades. This situation is compounded when we punctuate our brief periods of study with video games, excessive drinking, and other habitual pastimes that stunt maturity and delay adulthood.
We no longer learn for the sake of learning, study for the sake of internalizing what we read, or choose our university and major based on a desire for a curriculum designed to form intelligent, well-rounded individuals. Until Notre Dame students once again begin to care about what comprises their Notre Dame education, the debate over the core curriculum will wither away and, with it, the purpose of the university.
Alexandra DeSanctis thinks that she is an efficiency expert with her carefully-planned schedules broken down into 15 minute increments, but between you and me, it took her 30 minutes (unplanned) to think of a byline for this article and she ultimately failed. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.