Entering college classes sent me into a bit of an academic culture shock. It wasn?t that the classes were harder or that there was more work ? it was that they made the students step up to another level.

Case in point: When we ?studied? Shakespeare in high school, the teachers knew we probably weren?t going to go home and read the plays. So we read them aloud in class. We spent entire weeks sitting at our desks, reciting the lines of old Ophelia and Prospero and Marc Antony from beginning to end of each text.

Then after each scene, we talked about what had just happened. If we understood the plot for the test, we were set.

Now, just one or two years later, we?re expected to not only read the thing by ourselves and understand, but bring insightful analyses to class discussion.

This isn?t bad. Generally, when students are treated as intelligent adults, they step up to the role.

But when were we supposed to grow up? When was it that we became motivated and smart? Is it that we?re now allowed to pick our own classes instead of having to study things we hate? Is it that we now pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of education and figure that we better not waste it? Is it that we are now assigned work that seems meaningful instead of having to copy definitions from a glossary? Is it because we are not forced to be here? Or maybe because we can spend the morning in bed or drop out of college if we choose?

Or is it simply that we?re more mature?

I didn?t like history in high school. In fact, sometimes I just wouldn?t do my work. I had an attitude problem about high school in general, but that?s another story that probably doesn?t belong in this column.

It was sophomore year here and, having found little joy in BIO 115, I decided, why not take some history classes? They were great, and I declared history my major in the spring.

One of my favorite classes this semester isn?t too different from AP American History (minus the busy work), a class for which I blew off all the readings and papers. What has changed? As far as I can tell, not much ? except that it?s four years later.

One of the most important things a college education gives us is simply time to grow up.

Sure, not everyone goes through this kind of academic epiphany. But what we learn in these four years may not be as important as the time we spend learning it.

Right now, most people my age can?t conceive doing most of what functioning adults have to do. But by the time we get there, maybe it?ll be okay.



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Editor’s Note (5/4/24): This article is no longer being updated. For our most up to date coverage, look for articles…

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