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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, October 01, 2023

Learning in the classroom of life

Back in high school, when I was still had not decided which college I wanted to attend, I enjoyed perusing thick college guidebooks to help me in my decision. Those books included nearly every college under the sun, offering ratings of both academic and social life, campus hot spots and perspectives from students who attended the colleges.

When I reached the section on UW-Madison, I was especially intrigued by one part of the description. It was the Twainian quote the book listed as the unofficial motto of the student body: “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.” That simple axiom convinced me to enroll at this university more than anything else I read or more than anything I saw during my campus tour.

Thinking about that motto four years later, I believe it still holds true. My best learning experiences haven’t taken place in the middle of a professor’s lecture or while reading a textbook, but rather in various venues of campus while just talking to people or walking around.

For example, I was at a football pregame last weekend and I talked to this kid for a half hour about the significance of religion in today’s society. We talked about our dissatisfaction with our own Catholic upbringings and our disdain for those who go out of their way to impose their own faiths upon us. All in all, it was an engaging discussion, and the best part about it was how organically it happened.

Conversely, most of the course discussion sections I’ve enrolled in have been almost entirely absent of keen insight. Everyone is usually there out of total obligation. The TA is there to finance his or her graduate school costs, and the students are there because their tyrant of a professor made section participation worth 30 percent of their grade.

I can’t count how many discussion sections I’ve had that have ended 20 minutes early simply out of apathy. Hardly anyone did the readings or cared enough to half-ass their way into a participation point, so the TA said that’s all for the week. It’s essentially an acknowledgement of the uselessness of the discussion section.

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During your time in college, you can stay attentive and take perfect notes in every lecture, complete every course reading, maintain a 4.0—but it may come with the price of missing out on some of the seemingly banal aspects of life that can actually be even more intellectually enriching.  

That’s why I don’t get overly dispirited when I look at my DARS report. Through three years of college, I have a cumulative GPA of 3.2, a decidedly vanilla number that is not enough of an asset to even bother putting on a resume when I pursue my first real job.

Could I have made more of an effort to pay attention in lecture? Sure. Could I have spent an all-nighter at the library rather than saying “screw it,” and going to bed? Of course. Could I have actually read the entire 30-page, nine-point font scholarly article instead of skipping to the summary and conclusion? Hell no, and if you actually read those beasts regularly, may God have mercy on your soul.

Instead, I take comfort in knowing that my GPA doesn’t even come close to quantifying the education I’ve gained from my day-to-day interactions and observations. While the academic achievement of many of my peers may suggest they “did better” in college than me, I’m confident that the personal growth I experienced by just taking in life over these past few years puts me on equally solid footing.

So when final grades come out at the conclusion of this semester, I’ll undoubtedly see some fart sniffer show up in my Facebook news feed with a pretentious status update like “4.0, don’t mind if I do!” or perhaps even more obnoxiously, posting a photo of their grade report from Student Center.

After I mentally send a steaming turd sandwich in their direction, I’ll be thankful that I don’t need a number to validate the breadth of my knowledge.

Are you an avid academic with a thirst for good grades? Did you want to do a fist pump when you read this article? Either way, shoot Adam an email at

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