Practicality: Learning vs. Preparation


Submitted by Alex Shapanka

A dark cloud of practicality has befallen Duke’s campus. In recent years, our university and the student population alike have shifted the emphasis of our education from learning to preparation. Everything we do now is meant to serve ‘the’ higher purpose – it is in some way supposed to ready us for the ‘real’ world.

Maybe I’m naïve, but I don’t believe the purpose of an education is to make a student look competitive as he or she searches for a job. We came to college to learn, not just to collect a degree, though that’s the only thing that seems to matter to most. While a degree is necessary, you don’t need more than one, and it should not be your focus. All it does is tell third parties that you’ve completed a set of prescribed requirements. But your education is for you not anyone else.

At a school like Duke, however, there is a lot of environmental pressure to pursue certain academic paths, the ones that ‘make you marketable and teach you the proper approach to solving problems.’ Don’t succumb to that mentality. Find your interests and follow them. Choose a major because it’s required of you, but make sure it’s a subject that excites you, not just one that will just look good on a resume. You don’t need to pick up multiple degrees. If you only have one course standing between you and minor or another major, ask yourself if you would truly enjoy it. Unless the answer is yes, don’t take it. The extra degree won’t mean anything ten years down the road, but that random photography class you’ve been itching to try could spark a lifelong passion.

Your course load should be something that excites you. Take classes that you find appealing and fun. Branch out and check out those AMI, Linguistics, and Literature courses you’ve been eying but shied away because Economics is more ‘practical.’ In doing so, you will be learning across disciplines and gain exposure to different modes of thinking. Rather than getting bogged down by two departments and constantly channeling such a limited train of thought, you will expand your mind to think more creatively. Duke’s end goal should not be to teach you how to think but how to think for yourself.

Choosing a major should not be something you stress over. For those of you who consider it to be a source of anxiety, reflect on what you have enjoyed in your academic experience, and use that to make your decision. There is no reason to cause yourself stress by double majoring and getting a certificate unless you really enjoy all of those courses.

We all have enough stress in trying to balance our cocurriculars, academics, social lives, personal issues, and finding jobs (for those seniors out there). I realize there is an added pressure to choose certain majors or pick up extra degrees, more than 83% of Duke students pursues more than one academic pathway, but do yourself a favor and don’t let it influence your decision. Study what you want.
Duke has great resources to help you work through your thoughts, if you’re still unclear it is what drives you. Check out the academic advising centers for Trinity and Pratt.

Think of your academic career as an opportunity to discover new ideas and do something for yourself. With my last book bagging session quickly approaching, each class slot becomes precious. It is the last chance I have to learn about poetry, linguistic analysis of Cold War texts, Latin dance, and countless other subjects. I urge all of you to treat your course load, as I will this semester, like it were your last.