The clock hits 10 to. Class ends. Books shut. Let’s talk about something else.
While intellectual curiosity does live at Penn, it struggles to coexist in a habitat pervaded by a pre-professional culture with an Animal House mentality.
In a work hard, play hard environment, raw quantifications — the grades, the assignments, the curves or those tallies on your forearm — dominate our psyches and thus our conversations. As soon as we get out of class, anything remotely bookish falls to the wayside of our daily tête-à-têtes.
In the recent Opinionator “What Is College For?” New York Times contributor Gary Gutting explained, “our support for higher education makes sense only if we regard this intellectual culture as essential to our society.”
This begs the question, do we?
Gutting also makes the point that if students are foremost looking to be educated to most efficiently and easily obtain a high-powered job — which seems to be the dominant attitude at Penn — this could be achieved most effectively through a system of professional and trade schools.
If we don’t thirst for knowledge sans agenda, then why are we even here?
While we all write poignant admissions essays that make us appear as though we subscribe to an environment of intellectual curiosity, once admitted, our minds and corresponding conversations wander far off course.
It seems as if students have bottled up their academic zeal and hidden it next to the other bottles in their closets.
In high school, we were labeled as the brainiacs at the top of our class. When we came to college many of us tried to reconfigure our identities and give credence to our school’s “Social Ivy” denotation. Here at Penn, intellectual curiosity connotes pretention. Being passionate about Plato and plate tectonics is just plain un-cool.
We are so serious about our work that we don’t know how to let it infiltrate our play.
Penn boasts a zoo of academically-infused extracurricular activities, but many students approach these as they do their academics: with an emphasis graduating with a stellar transcript and resume.
The separation of academics and socializing — much like the separation of church and state — has become increasingly apparent. (See Ali’s venn diagram below for further explanation).
Let’s face it, we are all too smart to limit the scope of our conversations to a rendering of last night’s saga. Between the lack of mental aerobics and the constant exposure to substances, our cortices must be rotting faster than the daily special at 1920 Commons.
So let’s bring back the witty banter.
Acknowledge that some of the things we learn in class are worth talking about past the exam. Take time to let the material soak in and talk about it on Locust Walk.
It’s okay to be president of one less club, so that you have the time to read a book for pleasure.
Wander through our city, visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art. When we encounter something that makes us pause, we enrich the conversations with those around us.
Some students have found a venue to foster discourse outside of the classroom.
For College sophomore Jon Iwry, the Philomathean Society provides a place “for people whose intellectual and cultural interests aren’t limited to the classroom.”
“It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of a university, and sometimes we forget to make time for higher things, like pursuing the topics that really matter to us and conversing with people about their similar and other interests,” he added.
It’s unfortunate that an organization for the kind of activity that Philo promotes can be labeled as pretentious.
Nevertheless, you don’t have to join a society to celebrate your mind. The movement starts on the street. Let’s make it cool to be smart, bro.
Hayley Brooks and Ali Kokot are College sophomores from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and New York, N.Y. respectively. Their email addresses are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Think Twice appears every Tuesday.