Monday, May 9, 2011

USU vs GWC... which is harder?

This post rambles on quite a bit but I don't feel its important enough for me to write it correctly.  My apologies if this doesn't make the most sense.

At GWC they always bragged to us about how their freshmen program of study was harder than medical school and that students at their school studied harder than students anywhere else.  And GWC did make you study hard.  I think they wanted us to prepare for life crisis by making our studies one prolonged life crisis.  Very few students even tried to hold down jobs during the semester and those who did often took a lot longer to graduate.  Since you needed several internships to graduate you couldn't devote your summers to earning money without delaying graduation on those internships... say unless you just found ways to excuse your summer job as a learning experience.  But all internships were supposed to be unique and it starts getting harder to find 3 things that make enough money for a whole school year that still count as unique convincing learning experiences.

In any case, my feeling is that being a dad, a husband, a full time employee, and a half time student at USU is actually a lot harder than being a single full time student at GWC.  From the way GWC brags you'd think there was no way that would be possible.  GWC tries to take over your life, but when they overload you with work which is what they know they are doing, there aren't any consequences to simply failing to do the work that is overloaded on you.  I had a professor who by surprise threw a 600 page reading assignment for us to read over a holiday break.  I tried to read some of it but honestly it wasn't a book you could read that quickly unless you weren't paying attention.  I don't think any of the students succeeded.  I gave up and enjoyed my holiday.  There was no consequence except that if I had managed to fit the book in somewhere (remember this was a surprise assignment not on the sylabus which was overflowing with other stuff anyways) I could have gotten more credit hours out of the class.  Or there was the economics semester.  The professor told us up front that he had no intention that we'd actually learn economics but only that we would learn enough about it that some day we would decide we really wanted to learn it.  The readings were difficult and didn't build on eachother in a way that allowed you to grasp them better as you moved on.  Again, I don't think any of the students actually were any where near up to speed on the readings.  We'd get together for study groups and see if anyone knew anything about the readings for the next day and none of us had any idea.  The only students who passed the class with an honors on their oral exam were students who completely ignored the assignments and built their own plan of study.  There was one philosopher whose economic influence the text informed me had disappeared as soon as he died.  I didn't have time to read him so on my final exam I wrote down for his entry that since the assigned reading was about an author who was irrelevant to current economic theory I refused to read him.  I didn't get any points off for doing that and I still passed the class.  This kind of stuff happened all the time.  We would study like crazy, not have time for everything assigned, and not fail the classes when we didn't complete the work assigned.  The main point was for us to study hard, not to complete assignments.

At USU, on the other hand, assignments are given with the intention of being completed.  If you don't have time to complete them it isn't a virtue of an academic system of teaching you to study like a maniac, its your fault for registering for too many classes.  If you don't finish an assignment or give it a half baked effort because you ran out of time, you fail the assignment.  So even though I was only a half time student with a full time job I found myself routinely working absurdly long hours and running my health into the ground trying to get my assignments perfect.  At GWC I would have said, wow I'm sleepy I'm going to bed too bad they didn't give time on the syllabus to complete that absurd assignment and gotten away with it almost every single time.  In my final year we were supposed to be studying a narrow subject to the point of being a world class expert (I think within the top 40 experts in the field was what we were told we would become) and reading through almost all of the "Founder's Constitution" set at the same time.  The sheer amount of study required for what was supposed to be the capstone paper of the entire undergraduate experience was so large that almost all the students in my class were freely admitting they weren't doing the readings for the constitutional law section of the class and we flummoxed the professor my showing up day after day to his lecture having no idea what he was talking about and not being ready to discuss anything he said beyond our prior knowledge.  That capstone paper of mine I took so much effort on that I blew my circuit on it and told the professor that to be able to complete the rest of the studies in the class I couldn't finish it and handed it in as a rough draft that wasn't even coherently structured yet.  I got full credit based on my obvious extensive research on the subject even though by any normal standards I had flunked the paper.  And who would believe I am one of the top 40 experts in the world on UN reform when I can't even write a decent term paper describing it?  The only prominent exceptions to this system of abandoning or only half doing assignments that were beyond possible  were the mid term exams.  A typical mid term exam at GWC wasn't actually supporting the content of our reading or lectures.  We typically were supposed to memorize a large list of information only marginally relevant to our course material and then the teacher would pick a fact out of that list at random and if we knew what it was we had passed if we didn't know we hadn't passed.  It got you to study fairly hard, but I passed those midterms by doing a one day or sometimes several hour crash course memorization spree.  I can absorb a lot of information very quickly when under pressure.  Then as soon as the midterm was done I would promptly forget most of what we studied for that midterm.  Typical content was things like the 50 "principles" of economics that the professor came up with as his study notes for a prominent book, names and locations of every nation-state in the world, meanings of common investment terms, meanings of various mathematical phrases like "trigonometry," etc.  It was somehow suggested that memorizing these lists of information would give us some mastery over them.  About only thing it did was make it so if someone spouted vocabulary at us we wouldn't be embarrassed.

What it comes down to is that after comparing the two experiences, GWC was either joking about them being harder than medical school or reporting experiences of students who came to GWC after going to other colleges and were expecting that all those assignments were real, rather than motivational exercises to make us work hard at work loads the professors well knew we weren't going to complete.  Comparing USU and GWC in terms of the normal definition of a school as a place where learning environment are provided and then the learning of the students is certified to have or not to have taken place, GWC is an institution where assignments can be missed, skipped, turned in poorly done, and where mastery of the content advertized may never be achieved.  What GWC really shines as is a institution of motivational speakers who invite you to complete the impossible and don't criticize you when you don't achieve it, just encourage you to make learning a lifelong process so that you'll eventually master all the things you rushed past at the speed of sound.  As a result students at GWC still learn a lot because they spend a lot of time studying.  The school simply can't certify that the learning took place and in some cases organizationally didn't make any attempt to ensure we were actually learning or would be capable of learning the material presented.  I came out of the school knowing much much more than I did before, but there are entire areas that the school supposedly covered for me in a "world class" way producing results that were somehow the best that I know very little about.  The extent to which this was motivation speaking and not real learning is exampled by an assignment to write a business plan that would make I think it as 1-2 million dollars over a 7 year time period.  We were told that if we really felt strongly about our business plans the professor would actually show them to an actual investment banker to see what a real world business man would think about them.  He bragged about how he didn't know of any other institution in the world that provided that kind of real world feedback to business planning.  How good were the business plans presented?  There was one student who brought in a hunting calender his mom had mocked up that integrated information on the laws and regulations for different types of hunting year round.  He told us that this calender if it was taken to market would be purchased at a certain price by something like 90% of the hunting population and therefore would automatically make him a millionaire.  One of the other students pointed out that this was a high rate of market pentetration and the student presenting the plan said he felt that all hunters would want the calender and couldn't think of any reason he wouldn't get 90% of all hunters to buy it from him and suggested the doubting student just didn't know the market of hunters well enough to understand how that would work.  As far as I knew that student passed the class.

My own attempt wasn't necessarily that much better.  I hadn't even attempted to model what the costs of advertising and management would be or how to enforce quality control off of an extremely decentralized network.  Ignoring those issues, I was unable to build a model that would grow that much unless it assumed some sort of explosive growth pattern which I was unable to model in my excel spreadsheet.  Or in other words I had no idea how to make it work.

So about this claim that no other business schools actually got real feedback on assignments?  My roommate who attended SUU for a business degree showed a business plan to a local investment banker as a required part of his class.  Wheras my idea never even got to an investment banker because that was a special privilege for people who were particularly interested, not for everyone.  I knew my idea wasn't yet worth beans so I didn't bother trying to get a banker looking at it.  So either the professor was full of a lot of hot air or was completely ignorant of how business degrees at the mainstream university a couple blocks away actually worked.  Or the simpler answer is that he wasn't a professor, he was a motivational speaker.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

So How have I been?

School ran me ragged this last  semester so I never had much chance to post.

The semester itself went great however.  I know I got A's in two of my 3 classes and I am waiting for the stat's professor to post my grades for my final.  But given I got an A on every homework assignment and both midterms, I'm not excessively worried.

The English class was kind of annoying in that many students weren't taking it seriously and the course was almost designed to take that into account as a starting assumption.  I'm really not that scared of writing, so a class also designed with the assumption that I'm terrified of the process wasn't quite what I needed.  But testing out of it would have required figuring out a lot of stuff very quickly when I was very busy, so I just ran with it and figured I'd pick up on everything I hadn't learned elsewhere in my learning experiences.  Main papers I wrote were a paper on why my favorite songs were my favorites, a short presentation on land planning/use conflict regarding immigration, a review of cloth diapers (which I may end up posting here if I bother taking the time to get the pictures to show right), and a research paper on how a particular strategy used for immigration integration could apply towards the social integration of those with disabilities.

The Wildlands  class was a lot of fun.  The class was mostly designed to get me emotionally and intellectually engaged with the major, find out if I liked my department, and get to know the resources available in the department.  Only a 1 credit class.  I enjoyed it quite a lot.

The statistics class was very boring at the start and quite a challenge at the end.  For the first week or two I don't think we learned much of anything that I didn't know already or hadn't already seen before when I home schooled.  By the end we were covering subjects that I had only vaguely even heard of before.  I had to work hard at all my classes, but this is the main one where I felt I was learning something new all the time instead of just some of the time.

We switched to having me working full time and Bonnie Jean not working at all.  Since this stopped us from passing Taelien back and forth like a hot potato when my wife needed to work and I needed to study, this actually increased both the time Bonnie Jean and I could spend together and the time I could study.  But it was still a very hard semester.  I only had two good study days a week where I could depend on sitting down for a long period of time and studying without interruption.  It took both of those days typically to finish the statistics homework.  English homework was fit in around other classes and a lot of it only after I got home from work and Bonnie Jean went to bed.  So that means between midnight and 1 AM.  The wildlands class mostly needed me to do things and attend activities instead of sit down and write papers and read things so I was able to mostly push that one in wherever it would fit.

The problem with having to complete homework between 12-1 AM on a regular basis is even when there isn't any home work that needs doing that very moment you are still in the habit of staying up that late even if just to relax and have a few moments to yourself.  By the end of the semester I was so sleep deprived I had fallen sick with a cold threatening to turn into a sinus infection.  I had to make an effort to get more sleep in so I would be awake for my stats final.

We've tried getting me back on my bike to reduce gas prices.  Repairing my bike would cost 230$, however, due to rusty cabling, worn out tires, a stretched chain, and a worn out gear cog.  So I bought a new one.  Finally I own a road bike instead of a mountain bike that I only bought because it was the cheapest bike available for sale at the only bike store within walking distance.  I still bought one of the cheaper ones I could find so it isn't a perfect bike.  But unless I'm trying to bike up old main hill to get to class it seems to work perfectly.  I was planning on walking up that hill anyways its so large, so I'm not complaining.

Speaking in Church

I suppose I'm finally considered an adult, first time ever being asked to speak as one of the main speakers on a subject in a family ward on a special occasion.  In any case, the Bishop requested I speak to address the concerns and feelings of women who were not mothers on mother's day.  He recommended I use as a text the talk on The Eternal Blessings of Marriage by Richard G. Scott.  He requested I cover the subject from the subject material of who women are and how they should be treated.  I didn't end up using Elder Scott's talk much because its all about how to treat one another within marriage and part of my target audience is, shall we say, unmarried women.  And most of what he had to say was about how wonderful marriage was and how we should treat our spouses wonderfully.  Not specifically about the concerns of women without children.  Given that I'm a married man with a child the talk suffered from problems of me having to establish my authority to speak about such concerns and also from cultural balancing issues were I can't talk about the concerns and feelings such women have without brushing up against and possibly being somewhat critical of the cultural dynamics that create those concerns in the first place.  If I don't go far enough I'd be rather irrelevant to actual concerns, if I state the problems with too little delicacy it comes across as an offensive attack on LDS beliefs.

I was only informed of my assignment to write this talk a week and a half ahead of time and only 3 days of that time period were after my finals were done.  So lets say this was a rush production.  I'm very pleased with how it turned out, however, and several members of the ward thanked me for my comments profusely.  Since I figured getting this talk right mattered a lot more than my privacy, I included things that I normally don't talk about.  Several parts I actually changed when I actually went to say them, for instance I said "I think it was a miracle I married such a wonderful woman" instead of leaving it as stated in the original planned text.  This would have been more polished, but I finished it at 1:30 AM on Sunday morning.  So, here is the talk:

After five and a half years of being married, my wife gets to celebrate Mother’s Day today for the first time as a mother.  We had planned to start having children as soon as we had the medical insurance, but soon after getting married we discovered that unless we found a cure for some medical problems we had, we would likely never have any children at all.  With little money, even less medical care, and major life crises that repeatedly interrupted our progress, it was far from certain that Mother’s Day was ever going to be for us instead of just for our parents.  After three years of trying, a lot of prayer, and the help of an excellent doctor we were finally blessed with our little son.  I like to say he’s our little miracle.

There are so many ways he’s our little miracle.  Neither Bonnie Jean or I were likely to marry at all in the first place, the medical condition we faced is rare enough many doctors are unfamiliar with it, and the pregnancy was difficult enough at the end that the doctor had us coming twice a week just to make sure our son’s heart was still beating strong.  As wonderful as our little son is and as much joy as he brings to our hearts, it doesn’t change the reality that miracles don’t always happen.  We like reading of such miracles in the scriptures and there are many examples including the birth of Samuel, Isaac, Samson, John the Baptist, and arguably even Christ himself.  But there are some things I’d like to point out about these miraculous births.  First, those mothers weren’t blessed with children because they became more righteous.  The scriptures explicitly describe these women as being extremely righteous and several of them had lived long lives without children before the miracle happened.  Second, the scriptural pattern suggests that if the Lord hadn’t had in mind for them an assignment to raise a specific child to do a specific thing, they would have remained childless.

Though having children is something we yearn for, not everyone gets the same assignments in life.  Speaking of children in this way reminds me of when I applied for a mission call.  When they raised the bar they not only decided to raise the spiritual bar, but also the medical requirements so that mission presidents could focus on leading groups of missionaries and not patients.  Even though my medical problems are mild enough no one would have dreamed they’d disqualify me under the older rules, no matter how many months I spent trying to convince the missionary department otherwise, I was honorably excused from serving.  The Lord didn’t have that calling and assignment in mind for me and not because I had committed any moral transgression.  It was still difficult to live with at times because in the past we let serving a mission practically define what it meant to be a worthy spiritual 19 year old man in the church.  Similarly, I think we accidentally let motherhood be the definition of worthy womanhood.

No one would criticize the prophetess Deborah, who helped Barak to defeat the Canaanite King Sisera, because we remember her for something other than the children that we don’t even know if she ever had.  What matters is that she received assignments from the Lord and fulfilled them.  Today on Mother’s Day I think we should pay tribute not just to the women who have had the opportunity to be mothers, but also to all women who have touched our lives for good.  From my own life, I can still recall a seminary teacher I had who was so Christ like that it didn’t even matter what she taught or what she said in her lessons, I could learn how to be a better person just by watching her actions.  The compassion she would express in describing someone, the comments she would make about our spirituality, and the love she would express in describing some of the more disruptive students in our class would tell me volumes about how to love people.  I knew another woman who recently passed away as a consequence of an epileptic seizure who used to come to church wearing a bicycle helmet to protect her head if she fell during a seizure.  The helmet always had flowers in it.  If there was anyone who could take a problem in life in stride with grace and dignity it was her.  Her gentleness, happiness, and love she always seemed to be overflowing with brought happiness to those around her.  She and her husband were always ready to serve, as I can well remember when one of the major portions of the work we had to do for my eagle scout only worked because they helped me.  I can also remember an elderly mother and daughter in our ward who were probably the best geneologists I’ve ever known.  They used their own family names to send our ward youth to the temple for monthly baptism trips on a regular basis.  We had a good-sized mutual program and probably cleared through several hundred names each time.  When the trips stopped if I recall it was because the bishop felt some of us youth were too rowdy for the temple, not because we had run out of names.  I can remember my trombone tutor who said she always had wanted to either have a lot of children or teach a lot of children.  She never had the children, but made up for it with the many she taught.  She demanded excellence and enriched my life as I learned to appreciate music and play the trombone.  She didn’t only teach in public schools and in private tutoring but also organized trombone choirs and sponsored me into summer bands and competitions that I couldn’t have entered easily because I was home schooled.  We as a church have many opportunities to celebrate the goodness, the accomplishments, and the contributions made by the women in our midst married or unmarried, mothers or not mothers.  From the writing of the hymnbooks we use, the founding of the primary, the vital work of the Relief Society, and many other contributions that women have made we cannot forget the women in the church.  We honor women who sacrifice so much as mothers, but just like for Deborah sometimes God might have in mind a different kind of miracle in mind.

In Isaiah chapter 54 we read:
Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.
Though Isaiah was describing the house of Israel and the latter day church as a whole, this promise is a powerful reminder that no matter what seems to be the situation now, in the eternities God has not forgotten us and is eagerly and powerfully desiring to bless us. The future of the House of Israel couldn’t be predicted from how many children Abraham had when he was 85 years old, so God’s approval and future blessings of us can’t be guessed just by looking at whether we are married and blessed with many children.

When I was a teen, my mother sternly told me that if she ever heard of me disrespecting any girl that I would be in the biggest trouble ever.  My father was an excellent example in respecting my mother, so I tried to take the message to heart.  I started watching my leaders and teachers in the ward to see how they treated and talked about their wives and former girlfriends.  One of the most prominent good examples I saw was my seminary teacher and her husband.  I got to know them fairly well over the years because besides being my seminary teacher my father and I were their home teachers and their family company later hired me.  I never once saw either of them say a disrespectful word against the other or any moment where frustrations seemed to become more important to them than their affection.  I’ve tried to imitate the intense goodness and affection they showed and also the level of respect my father has shown my mother ever since I can remember.  While marriage is a marvelous place to build and polish the skills of love and self-control, we shouldn’t forget that the basic principles of treating one another with respect are the same in and out of marriage.  My mother’s admonition that I had to treat all women with respect wasn’t just proper because I might marry one of them or because it was practice for how I’d treat my wife later.  It was important because she wanted me to be the kind of person who didn’t feel that I could disrespect a woman just because she was a woman.  May all the women in our lives receive the courtesy, respect, and honor from us that they deserve as children of our Heavenly Father.