There was a time — the first three weeks of my first semester in freshman year — when my friends and I stayed up until 7 a.m. talking about religion and debating politics. Nobody had to name drop Kant or Mill or Plato; everybody genuinely wanted to talk.
Those days are gone. These days, those same friends seem to prefer the combination of FIFA video games and Four Loko.
Whatever happened to the spirit of intellectual curiosity? That free-flowing exchange that characterizes the University — a hotbed of growth and discussion?
This tenuous, ambiguous intellectual curiosity is hard to define, but here’s a working definition: an English major who spouts more than just Shakespeare and a finance student who doesn’t just know the latest Dow Jones figures.
There are plenty of reasons why Penn students don’t engage in stimulating activities more often. But a common thread is that the strong pre-professional atmosphere at Penn dissuades intellectual curiosity.
Don’t get me wrong, I love getting e-mails from associate director of Career Services Helen Cheung. I’m glad somebody cares enough to make sure I get an internship for summer.
But there is a much more fundamental problem that the mix of networking, job-searching and interviewing creates.
“I enjoy having pre-professional resources available to me, but I am disappointed that having these resources pressures so many people to think they need to follow that route,” College senior and Undergraduate Assembly Vice President Mark Pan said.
And this is my personal experience. Many of my friends — Whartonites or not — have missed many academic talks in favor of writing cover letters or attending superdays.
“The pre-professional mentality degrades intellectualism in favor of practical content, creating a culture of anti-intellectualism,” College senior Benjamin Bell said.
Gone is the spirit of learning for the sake of learning. Replacing it is a fierce go-getter attitude. The result? A group of highly motivated students and glowing resumes that end up having a very specific set of knowledge — which really makes the whole liberal-arts education a pointless pursuit, when you think about it.
Maybe the grass is always greener on the other side. Tony Wu, my friend from Yale University, wishes there was more of a pre-professional atmosphere at his school. “You can’t create an institution that’s oriented toward life after school, but you can always create your own intellectual climate,” he said.
But are we really capable of creating our own intellectual hotbed?
The new Ben’s List initiative by the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education and the Philomathean Society may be useful in doing this.
Capitalizing on this weekly aggregator of academic events held in Penn, I decided to go for a talk by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. In the field of social psychology, he’s a god.
Disappointingly enough, it wasn’t the mindblowing intellectual experience I craved. It was interesting, but I had heard his research before. None of the fireworks I so desperately wanted to have.
But there are lessons to be learned from that. For one, we shouldn’t romanticize intellectualism. For another, and more importantly, it’s okay to be disappointed by our intellectual experiences — they’re a start. Use them as a platform to talk to your friends. Make learning your own.
Penn’s not perfect, but it has more than enough resources to ensure you get a job. Now let’s figuring out how to claim our education for our own.
Rachel Au-Yong is a College sophomore from Singapore. Her e-mail address is auyong@theDP.com. Combat Ray-tions appears every other Monday.Comments powered by Disqus
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