University is hard

This is sort of a continuation from my post on Monday about Mental-Health Awareness. Mainly, because yesterday I came across an opinion piece in the Globe that was sort of a companion to the Globe article I linked to on Monday.  This time, it was University’s not meant to be easy. And, I completely agree.

For some reason, I feel like many of us students expect to get good grades. And that we deserve them because we attended all the classes and attempted all the assignments and wrote all the exams. That the fact that you don’t know any more about the subject matter at the end of the course then you did at the beginning isn’t your fault, the blame should be placed on your instructor and TAs, on the textbook and the assignments, and so on.

Personally, I don’t think it helps that we pass students for being able to supposedly master 50% of the course material. (I say supposedly, because there’s enough debate out there on testing and what you can actually measure. So maybe that person with 51% actually knows 70% or really only knows 40%.)  In fact, during my undergrad, in my first year, I took two intro programming classes, let’s call them 100 and 101. The engineers also took 100, but then were streamed into a different class for 101 (same class, just with a different title specifically for them). Let’s call that second one 102. For the CS majors, we had to achieve a minimum of a B- in 100 to be allowed to take 101 (often known as a prerequisite, although these seem to be disappearing from many universities). The engineers were only required to pass before they could take 102. Guess which class had better results – 101 or 102. Yeah, there’s something to be said for requiring people have reasonably mastered the subject matter before they try to expand on it.

But, then again, we see this all the way back through k-12 schooling, where it is often deemed better for a student to be passed to the next grade with their peers, then to require them to have actually mastered the material. And then we wonder why they generally do worse. I can’t imagine anyone would think it’s really a great idea to be trying to teach someone multiplication before they actually understand addition.

However, as much as I agree that university should be hard, I do think we need to remember that there’s a difference in a class being difficult and not being able to cope with the stress and what’s happening in ones life. And that, I think is the bigger problem at universities today. We talk about an increase in mental-health problems among students, and then we talk about making classes easier, and letting students in with lower averages. And yet, I find it difficult to imagine that those “solutions” are really solutions for the original problem.

I do think we can benefit by making mental-health a more widely acknowledged topic that isn’t hidden away like it’s something bad. But, let’s also realize that there’s a difference between someone who hasn’t studied enough and is worried about failing an exam and someone who is actually depressed. They aren’t the same. It’s much easier for the first person to get it  together and start studying on their own then it is for the second person to get themselves out of depression without some outside help. Both of these are problems. Both can be found on campus. The first one is going to happen to pretty much everyone (and it’s really not the end of the world). The second one is the one we really need to be figuring out what we can do to prevent it from occurring.


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