Schooling is the Opposite of Learning
Undergraduate Reflections of a Homeschool Kid
I just received the official e-mail informing me that I have graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science. Since I completed my last class back in June, I haven’t really thought about the experience much, but today I found myself reflecting on my first experience in school.
Semester 0: I took note of the opportunity cost
Before I started school, I told myself three things:
1: I’ll graduate in 3 years or less.
2: My cumulative GPA will never drop below a 3.7 GPA (for my international friends, this means that my average score in each class will remain persistently above a 90%).
3: I won’t pay for any of it.
I resolved that if any of these 3 statements ever became untrue that I should drop out. I figured that if it took me longer than 3 years, I was either wasting my time or no longer interested in the experience; if my average grades ever dropped below a 90% then I was clearly bored and wasting my time; and the opportunity cost of school is already high enough for me as to only be worth it on the margin if I wasn’t also paying for it. If I ever didn’t receive enough scholarships to cover books and the cost of tuition, I should drop out. After getting accepted to attend the school I wanted to (again, if I didn’t get into that school, I figured I wouldn’t bother) I applied for a variety of scholarships and landed enough to more than cover my first year’s cost of tuition and books, and each successive year I received more. The third year I received enough scholarships that the school started denying me access to scholarship money I had received and sent me an e-mail saying I had received ‘too much’ financial aid, which wasn’t something I was aware they had the ability to do. If a foundation or trust wants to give someone money, why do schools have the authority to stop them? I don’t remember the school being party to that contract. :thinking-face:
Semester 1: Rules, rules, and more rules
I completed 30 credits of course work. Technically students at Boise State University aren’t allowed to complete more than 19 credits in a single semester (12 is considered ‘full-time’, and 8 consecutive semesters with an average of 15 credits/semester are what’s required for ‘on-time’ graduation in 4 years), and even then, every credit above 15 in a single semester incurs a $200 financial penalty (yes, seriously). The Registrar’s Office, which is an entity that exists solely to enforce this and other arbitrary rules, most of which limit who can take which classes at the University and in what order, didn’t find out about my flagrant disregard for their course load limitation until the semester was nearly over. Once they did it took 3 meetings with people successively higher up the bureaucratic chain (each of whom where incredibly confused judging by the number of times they all said ‘I’ve never encountered something like this before’ and their eventual deferrals to their bosses) until I eventually met with someone who worked directly under the person known as ‘The Registrar’ who told me that the only person who had the authority to grant me an ‘Extra Special One Time Exception’ which would actually allow me to receive credit for the classes I’d taken was The Registrar themselves. Fortunately for myself, The Registrar’s Underling also didn’t immediately dismiss me out of hand and brought my situation to the attention of The Registrar who granted me this elusive ‘Extra Special One Time Exception’ without penalty, but not before telling me at least 8 times that this had never happened before.
Semester 2: Everyone is illiterate
I only took 14 credits to get an idea of what a ‘normal’ semester was like for everyone around me. I was shocked both by how little was asked by teachers, and by the volume of complaining I heard from fellow students. My first semester didn’t allow me much time to socialize and I really didn’t notice the conversations happening around me until this point. I was often the only person in a class of 40 who read the ‘required’ reading materials. In fact, without exception I could have easily maintained above a 90% in every class without reading a single book, article, or study. Essay prompts in English classes either had nothing to do with the readings or the prompts were written such that anyone of average intelligence could have inferred what they were supposed to ‘learn’ from the readings anyway. The English and writing classes were the most egregious in this respect, the first of which I took this semester, only because both the Registrar’s Office and the English department wouldn’t let me test out of English 101 and 102. There were three occasions during English 101 where we read other student’s essays and had an opportunity to give them feedback. Until this point, I’d taken it for granted that everyone who had completed the equivalent of U.S. 6th grade (age 12) had the ability to coherently organize their thoughts and make a logical argument. Au contraire, apparently my home education and friend group selection bias had blinded me to the fact that everyone around me was functionally illiterate. Of the nine essays I read, only one understood the basic mechanics of the English language well enough for me to give any substantive feedback.
Semester 3: Bureaucracy stifles innovation
It turns out that 200 and 300 level classes were easier and less time intensive than 100 level classes. Almost all of them consisted of busy work that could be completed in under an hour per week. I took 18 credits but finished most of the work for my classes in the first two weeks. Finding myself with a lot of free time I decided to explore what was happening on campus. I went through a list of registered clubs on campus and started showing up at weekly meetings for 13 University clubs. I decided to create a reliable source of food for the food pantry on campus (it always seemed to be out of food) so I organized regular meetings between the local foodbank and various University administrators to create a formal partnership between the two which would allow us to have a reliable source of free food to give out to students in need. I planned and advertised ‘free food’ days on campus where the local food bank came and dropped off pallets of free food which was then given out to students and staff. Despite students being vocal about wanting these things, and the local food bank’s donors being vocal about it too, both required months of meetings and approvals before the university allowed either a formal partnership or any events on campus.
Semester 4: YouTube is better than class. DEI is a meme.
17 credits this semester. I had a media class which made me realize I had no cultural frame of reference when it came to movies, so I started reading a lot about the history of film and made a point to watch some historically significant movies. I took an animation course, the entirety of which could have been gleaned in a single 20-minute YouTube video. Instead, the professor created his own series of (very poor) hour long Youtube videos (which he keeps private) in addition to his 1.5 hours of lecturing each week. There were 4 Word Processing classes I had to take this semester that I could test out of but testing out of them would mean that I wouldn’t receive any credits for completing them and that I couldn’t receive my declared Minor. Yes, you read that right; FOUR Word Processing classes. An entire class on how to use a Windows Operating System and Microsoft Word. An entire class on how to use Microsoft Excel. An entire class on how to use Microsoft Access. An entire class on how to use Microsoft Power BI. Apparently, these classes are required for all business and accounting students at the University and the reason I had to take them was entirely political (the department I was taking them from had lobbied for them to be required). I spent most of this semester finishing the bureaucratic football that I started the prior semester (it took nearly a year to get all the appropriate permissions to be able to hand out unconditionally free food when all relevant parties were enthusiastic about doing so). In addition, I started a new adventure, understanding student government. I was a member on every committee that student government had. By far the most interesting committee that student government had was the Inclusive Excellence Student Council (IESC). The IESC was the only student government committee for which all members were paid out of taxes (mandatory student fees) to fulfill their stated purpose. The IESC’s primary purported purpose was to: ‘offer suggestions on behalf of marginalized student populations’ and to ‘respond to national/state/local dialogue that may pose threats to students’ or ‘may disrupt a student’s ability to engage in their educational attainment.’ This purpose was immediately suspect to me. It implied that this group of students was being paid to decide who counted as a marginalized student, and then to offer suggestions on their behalf. Who appointed you the arbiters of justice for people fully capable of speaking for themselves? It’s also worth mentioning that the IESC is a group of 5 students, one of whom is voted on annually by the entire student body and the rest of whom are appointed by prior IESC members. This year the IESC decided that there was not enough Diversity Training for staff. They set up meetings with the Deans of every college to tell them how their lack of Diversity Training was perpetuating White Supremacy. At their private weekly meetings (usually only the 5 IESC members and a couple staff showed up but this year I joined them for every meeting) I was often asked to leave the room in odd ways. Sometimes rather than simply requesting that I leave the room they would make an Announcement as if we were at a conference or something instead of a mere 6 people sat in a room. “We’re going to talk about things which White People don’t need to be hearing now. All White People, please leave the room at this time.” Seeing as it was clear they were referring to myself and I didn’t want to hear anything they wouldn’t want White People to hear anyway I would smile and leave. The self-identified ‘White People’ in this group of 5 never left whenever this was announced. I witnessed many other oddities by this group of people purporting to act under the name of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion including advocating for the firing of the only vocal Conservative professor on campus (their ‘activism’ included making up stories about him being racist) for having opinions about feminism they didn’t like.
Summer ‘accelerated’ classes: Professor’s expectations are Low
I took 6 credits over the summer. Something I was explicitly advised not to do (apparently many students find the 5-week summer course schedule too heavy a workload for taking more than one class at a time). One of the classes consisted almost entirely of watching daily YouTube videos and writing a 300 word ‘response’ to them. The list of videos to watch was not available from the beginning of class so there was no possibility of working ahead. The class ended by reading an Arbinger Institute book. The whole thing felt like a waste of time. The other class I took this summer was an English class which consisted almost entirely of collaboratively writing a single 5-page paper, something which we spent three weeks talking about doing before we were allowed to begin and then given two weeks to complete. My partner and I did ours in about 3 hours and based on my conversations with other students the longest it took to complete for any group was under 7 hours.
Semester 5: Good Teachers Do Exist
18 credits again. I had perhaps the only good teacher in my entire university experience this semester. He taught a geology class in a way that I was excited to show up each week because he treated us like we were capable of thinking, and whenever I asked questions about where I could learn more about subjects he’d mentioned he always had book recommendations at the ready. I interviewed him to learn more about his history and how he became a professor, it was fun.
The professors in the program I was majoring in allowed me complete flexibility both this semester and next to define both my research objectives and what my senior project would be. I decided to learn about GPU programming and game dev tooling, the results of which can now be seen on my website.
Semester 6: Tackling Bureaucracy out of Boredom
15 credits. Because there were no classes offered during times that didn’t overlap during other classes of mine, and because the Registrar would not allow me to be in two Zoom classes simultaneously, I had to take one more class the following summer before I was allowed to graduate. This semester was probably the most bored I was throughout my entire university experience. It consisted of being harassed and threatened by Administrators for Constitutionally protected speech (to the point where I got lawyers involved), going through the University’s student fee collection records and realizing the University had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from students (did I mention I was bored?), and reporting the previous student body president for sexually harassing two of his previous employees after they told me about it. The first one resulted in the school sending a lot of e-mails back and forth, no one taking responsibility for the illegal behaviour in question, never apologizing, and doing absolutely nothing to change the illegal policy in question. The second resulted in the school deciding that they didn’t in fact do the things anyone with basic accounting knowledge and the ability to do simple addition can verify for themselves. And the third resulted in a 6-month incident which involved three university administrators failing to perform their legally mandated Title IX duties, and me getting investigated for sexual harassment instead. The guy who I reported decided that my reporting of him was itself a form of sexual harassment, and then I talked about how hilarious that was on my personal Instagram account which resulted in him filing a further charge that I was retaliating against him for reporting sexual harassment, which he then took all the way to a Title IX trial where we both had to have lawyers present (even though by this time I was already graduated and therefore not under the school’s jurisdiction). And none of these have yet to find a resolution. If I don’t receive an e-mail notifying me of the results of the hearing within 5 days of my publishing this, then the school will be in violation of Title IX yet again. And if they rule against me then we’ll go to a real court because, as I said, the school doesn’t even have jurisdiction over me or my personal Instagram account now that I’m graduated. Did I mention I was bored this semester?
Summer finale: Propaganda called Science
I took the final class required to graduate, which was a ‘science’ class that consisted of almost no science, and we instead memorized the UN’s 17 so called ‘Sustainable Development’ goals. During one of the tests there was an actual question that asked what the ‘solution’ to Overpopulation was (why are we assuming that overpopulation is an inevitability, and why is this question in a ‘science’ class, and why are there only two options, and how is one of these ‘correct’ ???) and our options were either A or B:
A. Go full Malthusian and embrace some form of eugenics. (Seriously, the answer referenced both Malthus and eugenics)
B. Use media to idealize and normalize smaller and non-traditional families including families with same-sex couples. Subsidize hormonal birth control and abortions for lower income families who are likely to have more children.
That isn’t a hyperbolic characterization of the ‘answers’ to this ‘question’ either. It was literally presented as a question with only two possible answers and the first option was Heil Hitler, while the second one seemed deliberately engineered to make every libertarian, social conservative, and pro-natalist lose their minds. I’ve never encountered such blatant propaganda before in my life than I did in this class. The whole thing had nothing to do with science and everything to do with Scientism. There were dozens of examples of loaded questions like this one with similarly loaded answers. Another favourite from this class involved responding to an argument where someone is arguing for veganism on the basis that cow farts contribute to climate change and their manure and the fertilizer for grazing land is a water pollutant. The so-called ‘correct’ response was a deflection of the question that boiled down to “BUT IF WE DON’T KEEP EATING COWS, ALL THEIR GRAZING LAND WILL GO TO WASTE AND COWS WILL GO EXTINCT.” It felt like I was reading a Facebook comment thread. There was a point near the end of the class where I got to talk to some of the other students in the class (the whole thing was online and pre-recorded, by this time school was remote-only) and I spent a lot of time asking people about their experience in the course and the content. No one seemed to be as disturbed as I was by either the content masquerading as science or the way that so many questions were framed. For everyone there this was just a required course that had to be completed to graduate and they didn’t think about it beyond that. The whole thing was eerie.
Conclusion/What I learned:
One of the books I read before my first semester of classes started was Bryan Caplan’s The Case Against Education and I think overall his signaling model of higher education is correct. Honestly, I am grateful to the one wonderful teacher I had for sparking my interest in geology, but the same effect probably could have been achieved by an article or interview on one of the dozens of blogs in my weekly readings. I basically treated the whole experience as a kind of extended cultural anthropological study. I think that American conservatives who talk about liberal arts education as a kind of cultural baptism into the church of Social Justice might actually be on to something (especially after talking with my roommate about her Sociology undergrad experience), which wasn’t something I expected going in.
I was honestly shocked by the constant babying of students by staff and the obsession to avoid making classes and assignments ‘too difficult,’ the flagrant disregard for the law by faculty and administrators, and the constant encounters I had with Bureaucracy whenever I wanted to do anything remotely off-script. Supposedly, if the Title IX decision maker decides that me laughing on my Instagram about the fact that someone reported me for sexual harassment for reporting them for sexual harassment is retaliation then I might not even have my Magna Cum Laude degree next week. The whole thing is an elaborate performance, almost entirely divorced from, and often not even pretending to be, an education. In hindsight I can’t say I recommend university to anyone who wants to learn. Instead of an undergraduate degree, I think simply reading 10 books that were foundational in their fields (On the Origin of Species, The Wealth of Nations, etc.) will easily provide anyone with a more valuable education than an undergraduate degree. The only things I directly learned in school could’ve been more readily learned on YouTube or from podcasts. Heck, the content of the entire introductory economics course I wasn’t allowed to test out of could have probably been learned in a day reading Marginal Revolution. What I actually learned from this experience is that I was:
1. Severely overestimating the average intelligence of people with undergraduate and graduate degrees. Apparently even after completing an undergraduate degree most people don’t read books, don’t understand basic logic, and can’t write intelligibly. Graduate degrees also don’t appear to mean anything beyond having the patience to complete an additional 2-4 years of bureaucratic football. Maybe physics and biology are an exception here? Please someone tell me that the hard sciences are an exception to this. Experiencing school for the first time while also witnessing a lot of anti-scientific nonsense propagated by people with PhDs in medicine and immunology has severely undermined my trust in the expertise of people doing The Science™.
2. Severely underestimating the bureaucracy of schools. Why did it take 4 people’s approval to take the number of classes I wanted to take? Why was I not allowed to take classes from other majors? Why wouldn’t anyone take responsibility for any action or policy, even when they themselves wrote the policy and did the action? Title IX law appears to be a total meme. There is so much money floating around the university that even verifiable embezzlement is dismissed with a mere hand wave. On the other hand, a friend told me about similar embezzlement in another department that was a matter of hundreds of dollars rather than hundreds of thousands. That was apparently small enough to be acknowledged and the person responsible got a slap on the wrist but still works for the institution.
3. Underestimating the amount of propaganda in schooling. I learned no history, apart from the geology class and a History of Jazz class, and I was required to take what amounts to 2 Social Justice propaganda classes that I didn’t even talk about here, in addition to the UN policy propaganda class masquerading as a ‘science’ class. Even in seemingly more generic classes like English we were asked to write essays responding to things like Mom’s Demand Action ad campaigns. The economics class focused on cap-and-trade and completely skipped over demand curves, barely mentioned incentives, scarcity, etc. Classes went out of their way to frame things in terms of the currently in-vogue brand of identity first American politics, even when it didn’t make sense to do so, or it distracted from more foundational principles.
4. Education in school is purely incidental. When I encountered Dr. Luna’s geology class it felt like a miracle. It was the exception, not the rule. Schooling is clearly not maximizing for learning, by my read the only thing being maximized for in school is Compliance. At the end of the day, it’s a zero-sum status game, and the more people play the harder everyone has to try to signal they’re better at it than everyone else. In 50 years will PhDs be job prerequisites instead of undergraduate degrees? Any educational byproduct of this system of ‘education’ is incidental, a happy accident. And my experience was probably less bad than most since the major I was in allowed me to make my own path during my last year (though probably worse than most on the bureaucratic front as most of the people I know wouldn’t have made various rights violations that took place by the school a big deal).