Staring at my 12th-grade class schedule, with all its AP classes and impressive electives like economics and sociology, I wondered how I was going to survive the year.
A hefty workload was nothing new to me, but high school was just about over,
and I wanted a chance to slow down and enjoy it.
I had always focused on getting good grades. Maybe it started in preschool
when I got check-plusses for learning my colors. Maybe always being a year
younger than my classmates made me want to excel. Or maybe when my parents
started expecting me to do well, I didn't want to disappoint them. Whatever
the reason, I dutifully memorized what I was taught so I could succeed
laterjunior high would prepare me for high school, high school for a good
college, college for a high-paying job.
But during my last year in high school, I started thinking about these impressive
subjects I'd signed up for. Would I really need calculus, for instance?
Would it help me in college or my job? I was planning to become a journalist,
and I didn't think I'd be writing too much about big math equations.
So, I figured, there was no reason for me to take math in college. I dropped
the difficult class and replaced it with my first-ever study hall.
Instead of trying to do well in every class, I started appreciating only
the ones that seemed valuable to me as a writer. Later, when it came time
to look at colleges, I wondered if I should escape boring subjects entirely
by attending a journalism school. My best friend was going to a one-year
broadcasting school to prepare for a career in radio. I was tempted to follow
suit and skip all that "well-rounded education" nonsense.
Still, a four-year college sounded like a lot more fun than a one-year
professional school. And even if the general-education courses would be a
pain, I decided the social life at a Christian liberal arts college would
be worth it. I figured I could speed through my gen-ed classes and then enjoy
Into the Trap
My freshman year at college was a whirlwind of changes as I learned to live
without Mom and Dad, tried to get used to the cafeteria food, puzzled over
finding all my classrooms without looking clueless, and worked on making
new friends. In the midst of so many adjustments, my gen-ed classes at least
were familiar. I signed up for economics and sociology, figuring my experience
in high school would help me coast through the classes with minimal effort.
In both of these classes, I barely listened to the lectures and zipped through
my homework. I memorized only the parts of the books that would be useful
for the tests. With those study habits, I forgot what I'd learned the
minute I handed in each exam. I was wolfing down my gen-ed classes like the
cafeteria food I swallowed without really tasting.
One class I did enjoy was Freshman Experience, in which our group would
sit in a circle and just talk about our new life at college. I now realize
the class was designed to combat the typical freshman trap I had fallen
intotreating coursework like something to get through, putting the absolute
minimum effort into a class instead of really thinking about it.
As part of Freshman Experience, the professor introduced our class to the
idea that all our academic experiences were searches for truth in the world
around us. And every truth we learned about the physical world or the human
race would give us insight into our relationship with God, who created everything
we study. Saint Augustine (one of the many old guys whose work I read at
college) put it this way: "Wherever we taste the truth, God is there."
Since writing, art, and literature interested me, I first began to "taste
the truth" in these classes. The creativity I was able to put into my writing
and art showed that I truly was made in the image of a creative God. Learning
to understand literature of different cultures and eras gave me insight into
the Bible, a very ancient and richly cultured book itself.