Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Mother's Lament

Since my son began college two months ago, I've been feeling bad that I haven't been as insightful as I'd wished in providing advice for him, and helping him put things in perspective. During his recent break, we talked a lot about the problems he's been encountering, with the hope of finding solutions.

Now that my son has returned to school, he's been trying to stop focusing on what he's going to major in, and begun thinking about where his true interests lie.

It's difficult because that's not the orientation of a major research university, although it certainly should be since the majority of students are undergraduates. In most of the workshops my son has attended, and in individual meetings with advisers, I believe the focus has been too narrow and the information too pedestrian.

Except for commencement speeches, few educators and administrators talk with students about the big picture. What is the true purpose of a college education? Aside from specific curricular information, what are faculty members hoping to teach their students? What do they hope their students will learn?

Of equal importance, how are faculty and administrators helping students understand the relationship between the big picture, and daily campus life?

From the get-go, students are pressured to pick a major, decide upon a career path, and achieve at all costs. And yet in many institutions, the importance of vocation as a calling isn't discussed by faculty or woven into the curriculum. Rather it's left to the purview of career counselors and advisers. And perhaps the entire concept of choosing a college major and its relationship to larger life issues should be rethought.

"Life itself is a whole, not divided into majors," writes Robert Harris, an author and college educator. "Most jobs, most endeavors, really require more knowledge than that of one field. We suffer every day from the consequences of not recognizing this fact. The psychologist who would fully understand the variety of mental problems his patients may suffer will need a wide-ranging knowledge if he is to recognize that some problems are biological, some are spiritual, some are the product of environment, and so on. If he never studies biology, theology, or sociology, how will he be able to treat his patients well? Shall he simply write them off as hopelessly neurotic?

"The doctor who believes that a knowledge of cell biology and pharmacology and diagnosis will be all-sufficient in his practice will help very few patients unless he also realizes that more than eighty percent of the typical doctor's patients need emotional ministration either in addition to or instead of physical treatment. The doctor who listens, and who is educated enough to understand, will be the successful one. A doctor who has studied history or literature will be a better doctor than one who has instead read a few extra medical books."

I couldn't agree more. And now that my son has changed his focus and broadened his scope, I am feeling a great sense of relief and hope--for him. As the mother of an only child (and a former college administrator), I only wish that I'd thought this out more clearly months ago, and had provided my son with better advice.


Danielle Says Hello said...

This is one of the reasons I made the decision to home school my daughter at age thirteen.

I found it interesting that you mentioned what faculty teach above and beyond their discipline. In each of the topics of my discipline I spend quite a bit of time finding appropriate material that will provide my students with 'bricks' of useful information in order that I can help them build a foundation for living an effective life ~ one that they are passionate about. Of course I have the luxury of teaching Psychology and there are many areas that students can take from this discipline and apply to their day to day life. However, just Tuesday evening we did an exercise that I related to our 'Thinking Language and Intelligence' chapter. I have my students build a value matrix. I believe many of today's students don't understand what they value. I believe they represent the values of perhaps their parents and/or their friends. They haven't had a chance to think about what they value. This is crucial to good decision making and during a time in their lives when others' make deem certain decisions of utmost importance (such as college majors) it is important that they (the students)make those decisions based on their values and no one else. Our next chapter is "Motivation and Emotion" this is where I tie the values and decision making in with what 'motivates' us....specifically...what motivates my students.

These are just two examples of how one faculty member approaches a college education. Sorry so long. I just think that you are touching upon a lot of important points that not only parents but other faculty members need to take into consideration when approaching the education/careers of their children/students. My view will only be successful if you pursue something you are passionate about. However, you must remember that success is measured differently by each and every person. Thanks for giving me this space to respond. ;)

lily12 said...

Things have clearly changed since my college years (20+) I had no idea. BTW, I really like that you addressed President Lincoln's mood disorder. I first learned about this while I myself was deathly depressed. Even through the fog, I was amazed he still functioned. I remember thinking, "If he could do it with no prozac or lithium, well then . . . " I think it helped me, in some small way, to recover.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Danielle,
What a great comment! I'm delighted you responded in such depth because it's such an important topic. You're obviously a very thoughtful and caring professor and I'm sure it makes a real difference in your students' lives. It takes extra effort to weave together an academic discipline with practical applications, but I believe it's a critical component of learning.

Thank you for taking the time to explain your process!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Lily12,
I'm so glad that knowing about Lincoln helped you during a difficult time.That post brought an unexpected number of hits and continues to do so. I couldn't imagine why, and now I do! Thanks for letting me know!


JayPeeFreely said...

In my opinion, I wasted a lot of time figuring out what the purpose of my life was suppose to be due to some of the flaws you stated about college. Admin. & professorial people talk their profession.

A long time ago, Discovery magazine put out a 4-part series in the late 1990's about the subject of CONVERGENCE. The idea was as you noticed, that their is an intertwining of various fields of knowledge, and the ability to take a great deal of knowledge, emotional and intellectual, and blend them together. It included some of the foremost thinkers, or success stories, in various fields and how they applied other expertise or knowledge to reach some unusual (and usual) ends.

We underestimate people's ability to understand more. Especially youth...And to not be so rigid in finding some answers, or understanding the real problems better, in order to get more complete people working on a more thorough understanding of where we should be focusing "a purpose" but not at the larger expense of hoping that is the "only purpose."

After college, I wasn't complete at all. I didn't really get much out of Industrial Engineering and most people I met that were engineers were lacking personality or scope. (My best friends/relationships in college were always with people in other majors: psych, philosophy, management, poly sci, etc.)

Honestly, the entire undergraduate college education needs to encompass 5 years - do more well rounding of people in other fields - or at least let them have better access to possibilities that "a major" is not always the best means to the end. (Getting money via work...which seems to be the only goal I ever heard about.)

But colleges, who focus on development of students to professionals, rarely do internal tweakings to improve upon things. To them, I suppose, things aren't broke...and the money they get tells them it is not broke.

(Oh, Hi Susan.) :)

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear JayPeeFreely,
One of your best comments of all time. Wow! That was a very interesting reference to the Discovery magazine piece, and while I'd heard of convergence, the context in which you put it makes me want to read about it again. And I think your analysis of your fellow industrial engineers isn't surprising to those of us who majored in the liberal arts!

Hi back!


Meredith said...

This is why I love my American studies major. We are required and encouraged to take classes in disciplines across the university, to pursue our own interests, and to create a thesis in whatever form suits our interest area. (I'm tentatively making a documentary about race/ethnicity in DC and immigration.) I love not being constrained into a tiny box like so many of my friends are as government or engineering or biology majors.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

I can certainly understand why! Sound exciting!