Inquiries from a separate reality
Posted by aogMonday, 08 October 2007 at 06:43 TrackBack Ping URL

Over at Power and Control is this quote

“When we think of going to college, we think of intellectual freedom. We imagine four years of exploring ideas through energetic, ongoing, critical thinking and debate,” Maloney said.

Do people really think this? If you had told me that while I was in high school, I would have stared at you as if you had said “the sky is blue when you’re in college”. It’s not that I would have disagreed, but I wouldn’t (and still don’t) see what one has to do with the other. Do normal people live in some sort of thought suppression field until they escape to college? For me college was effectively a high school with a bigger campus and somewhat harder classes. The transition was barely noticeable. Seriously, is it normally some sort of transformational thing? I grew up in a small, rural town (literally across the street from a farm) in a small (400 total students) high school, which I would think should have heightened the difference. Am I that unusual, or is the college transition an overhyped cultural meme that everyone thinks is true because everyone else says so?

Comments — Formatting by Textile
joe shropshire Monday, 08 October 2007 at 08:59

So, either you were already getting drunk and laid in high school, or you never got drunk or laid in college. That’s what “four years of exploring ideas through energetic, ongoing, critical thinking and debate” actually means.

Andrea Harris Monday, 08 October 2007 at 09:06

The call to college is definitely made up of a great deal of hype. I still remember the crushing dismay I felt when I entered my first year of community college and realized it was just more high school, only this time I had to pay for it. I don’t think I expected so much “intellectual freedom” as something rather more diffuse and abstract and different from the crass, dumbed-down, bureaucracy-infested public high school experience. I expected, I don’t know, a cloister-like atmosphere dedicated to scholarly pursuits… The dream was shattered the minute I entered the registration area, which I recall as a chaos of confusing queues, counselors who didn’t know who I was, lists of courses that all sounded alike, shouting, heat, and humidity (this was Miami in September). Grant you, at the time I was an air-headed teen who lived in a fantasy world comprised mostly of Tolkien and Jethro Tull albums, and this was merely community college, but I still feel rather taken in.

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 08 October 2007 at 09:55

Mr. shropshire;

Ah. I suspected that, but it’s good to have confirmation. I have never been drunk, although three children is, I think, adequate proof that I eventually managed to get laid post-college.

Ms. Harris;

Fortunately (?) I was already a cynic by the time I graduated from high school.

joe shropshire Monday, 08 October 2007 at 11:14

De nada. Maloney could very well just be having a bit of drollery with that quote, he seems to have a dry sense of humor.

Bret Monday, 08 October 2007 at 11:19

It was a transformational thing for me. As an example, before I went to college, it never occurred to me that people like me could start a company. It simply never occurred to me. Several friends had come from families with businesses so they fully expected they would start a business.

erp Monday, 08 October 2007 at 13:01

Networking is what going to college is all about. That’s why it pays to get kids into the best college you can. When I hear people say, why pay for a high priced college when they can learn the same thing at pudunk cc, I just roll my eyes. They can learn the same thing by reading textbooks too, but that’s not the point.

Bret went to MIT and met people “like him” — his intellectual equals who had more faith in his abilities than perhaps his family and down home friends.

Michael Herdegen Monday, 08 October 2007 at 15:44

I got enlightened in college. It took a while, and was rather hit-or-miss, not the ideal “cloister-like atmosphere dedicated to scholarly pursuits” as Andrea Harris so ably puts it, but nonetheless there was more “there” there than at lower levels.

But I wasn’t a hard-science guy. The differences in that transition might be lesser.

Andrea Harris Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 07:59

“Networking is what going to college is all about.”

Blah blah shmoozing iz da life blah blah…

That’s the most shallow perspective of university life I’ve heard yet. But thanks, you’ve just helped me get rid of the last vestiges of regret I had for not buckling down and applying for a scholarship to Big Name U. Cured!

erp Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 09:07

Glad to have been of help, but networking is not about schmoozing, it’s about personal contacts with people both students and faculty who have intelligence and drive.. The old boy network now includes girls. It’s so much easier when you’re on the inside, so if you have the brains and the ability, why wouldn’t you take advantage of it, and BTW, I spent a lifetime in academe and you by your own admission haven’t. So my depiction may seem shallow to you, but I assure you, it’s accurate.

Community Colleges are merely places to go to learn what you should have learned in high school. Apparently you didn’t need that remediation, so you should have realized right away that you were in the wrong place. It’s a huge failure of high school guidance counselors that they don’t counsel bright students, but spend most of their time and attention at the other end of the scale.

Regretting past actions isn’t profitable unless you use the knowledge to avoid future behaviors that might cause future regret.

Bret Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 09:12

Andrea Harris wrote: “That’s the most shallow perspective of university life I’ve heard yet.

I think it works out differently for different people. For me, my career has basically been built around those I met at school. In the current venture, I’m working with 4 friends from college (among others), and both some of the investors and advisors are from my college. I’m not sure why networking is shallow, but even if so, the lifelong friendships and the career support has been well worth it to me and is the most valuable thing I got at school. I’m good at learning so there was little point in going to school for that.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 11:31

Interesting. I can think of only two people I met at college (student and faculty) with whom I still have even sporadic contact. Everyone else I lost track of within a year or two of graduating. My university doesn’t even hit me up for fundraising!

SWIPIAW on the other hand is still in solid contact with many of her colleagues from graduate school. Not undergraduate, interestingly, because we both did our undergraduate work at UIUC but she went to grad school at CMU.

As for my two networking contacts from college, one was also a graduate school colleague of SWIPIAW so it’s not clear how to count him. The other married a close high school friend of mine.

I don’t see how being good at learning makes college irrelevant. You still need input, not just ability, to know things, and at least the engineering college I attended provided excellent input that I doubt I would have acquired elsewhere.

Bret Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 11:41

aog wrote: “You still need input

Books and papers (and now the Internet) work for me. I never bothered to go to classes unless the teacher was entertaining. For me, classroom learning is hugely inefficient. I can learn the same material in a small fraction of the time by just reading it. I almost never have questions that I can’t figure out on my own.

erp Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 12:44

AOG - My son earned his doctorate in physics at UICU. I wonder if you were the there at the same time. He finished up in 1989.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 15:39

Yes. I started there as an undergrad in 1985 and graduated with a PhD in 1992. I took enough physics classes to have gotten an undergraduate physics degree, so it’s possible we met. Ask him if he remembers a student who always wore a vest.

Bret Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 16:09


Looks like aog has indirectly answered your question regarding his age (40 or maybe 39).

erp Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 16:13

His name is John. He was one of Tony Leggett’s students.

He’s the kid who met a French girl out there in corn country, went over to la belle to get married and has lived there every since he graduated. I think he taught some undergraduate math and physics courses. You might remember him. A little over six feet and emaciated, very intense looking like the prototypical mad scientist with wild hair and bizarre clothing and an excellent and fanatical basketball player also liked rock and ice climbing.

Did you get your Ph.D. in physics?

Any other clues besides wearing a vest?

erp Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 16:18

All my kids are older than AOG, 44, 48, 50 (in two weeks). The middle son who went to UICU spent some years doing other things before deciding where to go for his doctorate.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 19:21

I got my PhD in Computer Science. By the time I was in graduate school the classes I hadn’t taken in CS looked boring and uninteresting. So instead I took physics classes and math classes that were cross listed as CS classes. I don’t remember Professor Legget. I was a good physics student but not an outstanding one (although my first semester physics professor sat me down one day and tried to convince me to switch majors to physics. Alas, computers were in my blood).

Your description would characterize most of the physics students I knew. I was also tall (6’ 2”) and emaciated (135 pounds) in those years. My vest was my most distinctive feature — even my friends would generally not recognize me without it. One halloween a friend of my wore it and fooled quite a lot of people in to thinking he was me.

I also made a mistake on the dates. I entered graduate school in ‘85 but undergraduate in ‘81.

I don’t like to explicitly put my name here in order to frustrate netsearchers and spammers, but if you go to the root domain you can find it easily.

erp Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 20:40

I don’t want to put out our name either. I used my own name when I started surfing and my kids went nuts. They thought I’d be taken in by Nigerians selling diamonds or something.

Leggett, a brit, actually shared the Nobel Prize in 2003 with Abrikosov and Ginzburg for pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids.

I’ll send my genius your description and see if he remembers anything.

It’s a very small world.

Andrea Harris Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 21:57

I remember hardly anyone I went to college with (the one friend I did have I stopped speaking to years ago); and I don’t talk to anyone I went to high school with either. What “networking” I’ve done has been via my previous employers. I’ve always been wary of mixing personal life with my working life anyway. Also, I’m not much of a joiner, so all that “college life” extra-curricular stuff held no interest for me. I didn’t join any sororities or honor groups when I was going to university (University of Central Florida). That sort of thing just doesn’t interest me. I’m the sort of atavist that thinks the colleges should go back to being elitist institutes devoted to pure learning anyway; engineers can go to engineering schools and so on.

erp Tuesday, 09 October 2007 at 22:47

Andrea, I couldn’t agree more about not being a joiner or a team player. Never was, never will be. That’s why blogging is so great. I stay behind my bunker and never see the light of day or the stars at night. I love it. However networking is also good and it works.

Ali Choudhury Wednesday, 10 October 2007 at 11:53

I only kept in touch with three or four friends from college initially. Now thanks to Facebook, I’m in contact with virtually everyone I knew there - and also my schoolfriends dating back to elementary school. Wasn’t a huge help networking wise since I became a chartered accountant ad most of my friends went off to work in IT for investment banks or did science Phds.

I initially thought college would be like high school only tougher but the fast internet access, library and free time available were really life-transforming. Absent college I’d probably be the same conventional wisdom-believing leftie I was when I entered.

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 10 October 2007 at 17:07

Heh. Maybe I’ll hit you up when our product comes out, since investment bank IT staff is one of our target demographics :-). I’ll need to hassle Duck too.

I think I can count on one hand the number of times I visited the library at the university and all of those times were because it was an explicit class requirement.

Andrea Harris Wednesday, 10 October 2007 at 22:38

I actually love the library here at the local university (University of Central Florida). It’s five stories! When I went inside for the first time and saw all… those… books — I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I used to just go in there and browse. Of course, that didn’t exactly help me stick to my course requirements…

And on during heavy test weeks it’s open past midnight, and all day Sunday. Drool drool.

erp Thursday, 11 October 2007 at 01:04

me too

Michael Herdegen Thursday, 11 October 2007 at 15:46

Sadly, erp, for whatever reason, linking to the Duck with a specific comment # doesn’t actually direct one to that specific comment.

Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 11 October 2007 at 16:12

It’s because Duck isn’t putting the anchor tags in correctly. His links are purely numeric but the actual A element tag has a leading ‘c’. I pointed this out earlier, but it’s never the wrong time to mock someone’s lack of web-jutsu.

Bret Thursday, 11 October 2007 at 17:33

Duck/Oroborous have no choice in the matter, it’s what the off-the-shelf comments display script does. Well, I suppose they could get and edit the script, but let’s face it, it’s not worth the effort.

erp Thursday, 11 October 2007 at 17:55

I hadn’t noticed that last night. Andrea and I seem to have a lot in common coming across a couple of generations. Here’s comment.

Heaven used to be a comfortable chair, a good light, an endless library and unlimited yummies which appear on command.

Now the library part has changed slightly from an endless, dare I say it, materialistic one, to a really fast wireless connection to a virtual (soulistic?) endless library on the net complete with blogs galore and on-demand virtual play dates with other bloggers. Everything else stays the same.

Boring only means you need to be entertained by things outside your own head. ;-} October 09, 2007 4:07 AM

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