I’ve never appreciated my nerdy childhood as much as I did yesterday afternoon.
I walk into philosophy just as class is starting. Immediately, I notice each student staring expectantly at the chalkboard, pencil in hand and paper waiting on each desk. Surprise! My sloppy academic habits strike again: a quiz I’m not prepared for. The professor scribbles two questions on the board comprised of several unfamiliar and perplexing terms. Dread and frustration wash over me, and I feel mildly annoyed with myself. By my own laziness, I wasn’t even aware we had new readings to do, and the only thing I know offhand about Aristotle I learned from Legally Blonde.
Several scenarios fly through my head. Perhaps I can draw a clever picture that will get me some pity points. Would a pithy, honest statement about my failings as a student suffice? But as I search for any part of the question that I can respond to, I notice that while my sleepy and unconcerned brain doesn’t recognize the terms themselves, I do recognize a Latin root or two in the words that conjure more familiar associations. And so I begin to compile what I know about philosophy and what I know these Latin roots refer to, and I manage to make some messy guesses about what the terms mean.
I am so convinced I’ll be receiving zero points for the garbage I’ve written that I feel an urge to write a cute apology to my professor. “Awful guesses from a lazy student who may or may not have done the readings! Sorry!” Maybe I’ll draw a sad face, too. She’s a nice lady who is clearly passionate about philosophy, and I feel kinda bad.
We hand our quizzes in. I picture the zeroes that will show up in my online grade reports and regret the time I’d spent socializing in my favorite coffee shop before class. I suppose I could have been preparing for- or at least finding out about- this quiz.
My professor walks to the front of the room and gives a quick rundown of the correct answers. I stare at the chalkboard in disbelief. Lo and behold! My horribly strung-together definitions are right on, even down to the wording.
I was amazed. Recently, I’ve gotten a lot of weird breaks like this in my academic life. Some have been more trivial, like my biology professor canceling class because of the swine flu, or discovering that my Spanish professor forgot his attendance book the morning I overslept. But more importantly, I keep noticing that whatever hangs out up there in my brain has made some very fortunate triumphs over my tendencies towards laziness and academic irresponsibility.
Most of my life as a student has been this way. High school consisted of lots of fluffy playtime, homework done ten minutes before class, and zero studying…all while receiving honor-roll grades. I finished my freshman year of college at a pretty great university in much the same manner.
Why am I able to do this? Why can I so easily skate my way through coursework with little or no actual effort? It can’t be any roots in mathematics or science. My mathematical caution tape goes up right around 2x=6, and the world of science interests me to the extent of NPR’s Science Fridays.
I think my valuable BS-ing abilities can only be reasonably attributed to the sick way in which I have consumed literature since kindergarten. It’s kind of far-reaching to claim that the books I’ve read are the sole reason I am even reasonably intelligent. I mean, maybe calculus and complex chemical equations would do me some good. And really? Reading all one hundred Boxcar Children books couldn’t have helped that much, could it? But I’m going to go ahead and make that claim, because it’s the only abnormal thing about my otherwise-uninteresting intellectual development. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for allowing me to be a dangerously bookwormish child! I’m certainly reaping the rewards in my adult life.
So yay! I can do almost nothing for almost any class and get satisfactory grades. But here’s the sad part of the story: this ends up encouraging the biggest failings of my flesh: laziness, apathy, idleness. My confidence in my ability to be a lazy “A” student is bolstered with each quiz I ace unexpectedly. Friends tell me about their 6-hour study days in the library and I wonder if I’ve done that much in a week. I don’t even know what study habits would look like in my life. Would I take notes in every class? Would I go home and study those notes? Multiple times, even? Would I bring out some old-fashioned flash cards before exams? Hey- what if I read what was assigned? I like the idea of being studious and diligent with my schoolwork, but I’ve never been that way, and I’m not even close to that now.
This bothers me. And to be honest, conviction has found me in this area of life before. The first thing that got me was the realization that my parents are paying for half of my college, and it seems like my habit of putting zero work out to get average grades is a really crappy way for me to honor my father and mother. And school is kinda my job right now- wouldn’t it be really glorifying to God if I could focus some energy into being attentive to my studies? Maybe it would be good if my professors thought I cared about their class, or if students sitting around me saw me taking notes and asking questions instead of doodling incessantly.
Gray areas. A 3.0 versus a 4.0 isn’t life or death. Nothing crucial. But if I’m really angling my life towards God, if I’m striving to glorify Him, then I think everything shuffles over a little bit towards “crucial.” And so perhaps I’d do well to re-evaluate the way I approach academia.
Ironically, I am scribbling these thoughts into my journal IN my philosophy class, immediately following the faux surprise quiz. I’m totally absorbed in my writing and am only hearing snatches of my professor’s lecture: ”…mainly claimed that knowledge…might be on the test…important concept to grasp…” I guess she’s preparing us for our next exam.
But hey, nothing crucial, right?