What we should really learn in college

question-globeWhen I took AP English in high school, our teacher would begin every class by asking, “Any questions about the reading from last night?” At first, no one would raise their hands, and he would punish us for our silence with pop quizzes on minute details of the plot. Eventually we discovered that if we asked more thoughtful questions, he would reward us with informative answers, long enough to take up more class time and stall pop quizzes. Despite the stressful nature of the class, I realized that our teacher was training us in the art of asking intelligent questions, which became one of the most important skills I ever had to use in college.

Elementary school and middle school teachers groomed us to think about the whos, wheres, whats, whens, whys, and hows, but raising our hands to ask for further instruction was generally a mark of stupidity or ignorance. In college, though, the most impressive students are those who raise their hands with polished thoughts in mind. Now one of the highest compliments I can hope to receive from a professor is “That’s a good question!” followed by a profound academic answer.

A crucial skill we learn in college is how to make the right queries (excuse my odd SQL-influenced word choice). No matter your field- biology, computer science, English, etc., the quantity and quality of your questions determine how steep your learning curve will be and what intellectual depth you’ll be able to reach. Even if it’s a Google search, reaching out to other people for help never hurts. In fact, ask Google “How to ask good questions.” The worst that will happen is you don’t find your answer and must search for it elsewhere. Be careful not to drown in your own pride or limit yourself to the knowledge that others feed you. Stay hungry, and stay foolish. Go watch Steve Jobs’ commencement speech (and pretend that he was speaking at Berkeley instead of Stanford).

People receive Nobel Prizes for spending their time and energy pushing boundaries and making the inquiries that no one else on Earth knows how to answer. The best education you can receive will be a recursive process that instills a sense of curiosity in you and begets a desire for more education. So ask away, for college is the prime time to access the active, dynamic database of knowledge that is other people’s brains.

Yes, I admit to sitting quietly in the back of the lecture hall while the professor awkwardly asks “Any questions?” to a room full of fidgeting, reticent students. My advice is very much for myself. But the point still stands that an inquisitive attitude is essential to success in life, in my humble opinion. What are your thoughts on the purpose of a college education?  


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