Students can overlook benefits of a true liberal arts education: Writer challenges students to look beyond grades for meaning

By Lauren Muliawan || Contributing Writer

Liberal Arts Institution. We throw this phrase around a lot– so much so that sometimes I think we have forgotten what it means. Reader, let’s do some word association (and by this I mean my roommates and I will do some word association). Liberal arts: college, small classes, interdisciplinary, F&M, problem solving, critical thinking, friends, awesome professors, research, humanities, readings, many subjects/topics, small schools, long papers, discussions, trees, bricks.       

Not once in there do I think of grades. Which is why I was a bit upset to read an article about grades at F&M. I believe the article was in jest, but it read a bit too bitterly to be purely sarcastic and seemed to elicit genuine feelings.

   F&M is a tough, rigorous environment. When I was abroad my friends and I discussed grade inflation as we were all at good universities and trying to get a sense of life at each one. The other F&M student and I paused, turned to look at each other, and then said, “It’s fair. It’s not an easy place, and a B is good. It’s the 4th most rigorous college for a reason.” Classes are hard. Papers are long. Readings are arduous. College is tough. All of these things are true.     

    But I have to challenge you, dear reader, to tell me why, despite all of those “difficult” things, you came to F&M, and why you chose to stay. Because here is the thing– the secret to the liberal arts if you will– if this institution wasn’t challenging you, you wouldn’t be evolving, learning, or dare I say, having fun. Yeah, FUN. What is the point of taking an easy class? To get that easy “A”? That’s crap.

    Now, this is a realization that takes time and everyone arrives at this point differently. But, it’s the truth. Your grades do not keep you here, and they do not draw you here. Your favorite classes are the ones that challenge you, the ones that throw you for a loop.

    That’s when you learn, you adapt, and you problem solve. It’s those critical thinking skills that produces rich discussion that enriches our minds. College and this liberal arts institution is about finding your passions and pursuing them. It’s about leaving as a wiser and better person.

   Earlier this semester Ken Bain, author of What the Best College Students Do, spoke at Common Hour. The basis of his work revolves around the idea that students fall into three categories: surface, strategic, and deep learners. Whether you buy into his schema or not, you should take away this: “growth is the discovery of the dynamic power of the mind” (Bain, 4).

    Expanding your mind, delving into your passions, and motivating yourself to learn more is inherently better than attempting to get the perfect grades, because the way you approach a topic will get you so much farther than the ability or talent you think you possess. You came here to challenge yourself. You came here to learn. You came here to find a passion. You did not come here to make grades.

    So reader, I have a few challenges.

  1. Build friendships and support systems. Social skills are important, and having a group of people that you can trust completely is important and essential to your well-being. Shout out to the friends who bring me coffee and watch movies with me — I owe you.

    2. Sleep. You are a much better student and human when you are rested and healthy. Exhausted students are not productive, trust me.

    3. Get involved. College is a time to try new things. Join a club, run a student government group, and go to that informational meeting. Your clubs and activities help to keep you grounded. The opportunities I have had in my extracurriculars over the past four years have helped to shape me into the person I am today, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for any grade.

    4. Athletes: I must first say you inspire me. First, because the thought of running makes me tired, but more importantly because you have chosen to pursue your passions both on the field and off by coming to a small liberal arts institution.

    5. Do your work to the best of your ability. And go talk to your professors. They care about you and how you are doing. If you ask how you can improve, I am about 100 percent certain they will have ideas for you, and if they don’t the Writing Center will. Also, professors are humans, not robots. Go talk to them.

    6. Take courses outside of your major. You have done the liberal arts an injustice if you don’t. Self proclaimed humanities through and through? Take a biology course. Scientist who never leaves Hackman? Try an American Studies course. A new perspective will teach you better ways to approach your own passions, and maybe even spark some new ones. Heck, the geology course I took sophomore year is one of my favorite classes, and if I hadn’t been placed into an American Studies course freshmen year I would never have thought to try it, let alone major in it.

    Reader, I complain and fret over grades too. We are programmed to think that way. And I know that this op-ed is grounded in my own experience, and speckled with the nostalgia of a soon-to-be-graduating senior.

    But the liberal arts and F&M ask us to explore beyond our immediate lives. They ask us to transcend and to grow. Honestly, that’s why we stay. To discover that we are capable of so much more than we think, and that we are worth so much more than a letter.

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