Sunday, October 12, 2008

Published October 12, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I remember back in my teenage girlhood, I used to participate in an annual, weeklong tradition called “Girls Camp.” The leaders of these well organized expeditions hoped to teach us skills for survival that would put us in line with the skills our boy scout counterparts had known since they were eight. Among other things, we had to learn to tie knots, build fires, cook outside, and give first aid.

A good experience for an impressionable youth, right? The problem I encountered with my “education” at girls’ camp was that there was no practical application involved in learning these skills. When it came time for the second year girls to build a woodpile, we’d line up, one of us would build a woodpile, the leaders would sign her off, knock it down, and the next girl would take her turn. Everything I learned was quickly forgotten, simply because I was only doing it for the signature.

Enter my fourth year leaders, hardy individuals with backgrounds in scouting. They divided us into campsites and then told us we were on our own for the first two days. If we wanted to eat, bathe, receive first aid, or otherwise avoid gruesome, camping related deaths, we’d have to use the skills in our books without help from our leaders. Our food was sent to us in boxes prior to each meal time, and you can bet we didn’t knock our woodpile down.

I learned a valuable lesson that summer. Never again would I learn something just for the sake of saying I’d learned it. If I was going to spend my time in a class, I’d darn well better have some use for that knowledge when I was through. In fact, I dropped out of trigonometry my senior year of high school for that very reason and took Theater Arts instead. (The fact that the trig teacher was an arrogant blowhard who had no concept of what the word “teach” meant helped a little, but only just.)

So, here I am, nearly midterm in my semester at college, and it’s time to make an accounting of what I’ve learned and how I plan to go about using it. For reference, I’m pursuing a degree in psychology and am currently taking Philosophy, Ethics, Evolution of Human Nature, and Geography.

Right…geography…because when we’re dealing with a troubled mind, it helps to know the climate of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The whole “well rounded education” principle involved in the pursuit of a Bachelor’s Degree has me baffled. I’m going to school with the goal of advancing in my career, a career which does not in any way involve the study of weather, climate systems, rock formations, or the hydrologic cycle. I’m scrambling for a way to use what I’m learning in my ever day life, and I’m coming up short each time. I’m afraid I am, in essence, knocking down the woodpile with this class.

OK, so it’s a challenge. I can handle a challenge. Somehow, I have to figure out how to justify my knowledge of the seasonal path of the trade winds, latitude and longitude , soil characteristics, weather prediction, and groundwater collection. The only thing I can think of is the rare possibility that I might someday be shipwrecked on a tropical island and will have to survive and feed myself as well as figure out where I am and how to get back to civilization. I’m unsure as to whether or not creating just such an emergency in order to use this knowledge would be venerable or just plain silly. I might have to console myself with the fact that IF I were stranded, I COULD find my way back and just leave it at that.

Of course, once I realize that I’ll need trigonometry to actually plot my latitude and longitude, it will already be too late.