Part II: (Refuse to go a) student-ing

Today I learned that I now hate homework with a burning fiery passion (that I didn’t know I had inside me).

There comes a point, working on a homework problem, when I judge I’ve little more to gain from continuing to tease out the details of the solution. So I stop.

Then the little rational voice inside me says, “it won’t take much for you to get it all worked out and write it up; why don’t you just put in a little more effort and then you can turn it in and everyone will be happy!”

And then I cringe and quail inside, because essentially what the voice is suggesting is that I sell a little part of me, or my soul, or my time, in exchange for points. POINTS. Meaningless, arbitrary points. With a complete lack of integrity, I can buy points by putting the right sentences on a piece of paper and turning it in.

And by buying points, I can stay in the class. It’s a requirement for the class: turning in some homework. My happy “I learned something” spot isn’t good enough. It feels as if I have to buy my right to be interested in learning the subject. Ugh.


This is the most ridiculously over-dramatic statement ever made about graded homework. (!) And yet, I could make it still more vehement and not exhaust my depth of feeling on the subject. Where is this unexpected passion coming from??

Point 1: Integrity is important. (If you’ve got an argument handy that I could use to elaborate on that, I’d be glad to have it. elaboration… blah blah.)

Point 2: I think this is part of my larger cause, “Can I Please Be An Adult Now!??”

The virtue of awarding points for homework is that it encourages students to put the work in and rewards steady, successful effort towards the class. Like parents of kindergarteners award gold starts for completing tasks or good behavior.

I no longer wish to be a kindergartener. I wish to take full responsibility for my actions – I will cheerfully learn things, not learn things, decide my priorities, apportion my time, and stand or fall by the consequences. I would prefer not to have a beneficent intermediary artificially interspersing goals and rewards along the way.

Frankly, I think this means that I no longer want to be a student.* That would clear a lot of things up. Because surely there’s a time and a place for gold stars, deadlines, and an emphasis on successfully learning something and acheiving a grade. (Ugh, well, I’m not so sure about the grade part, but that question is too complicated for me right now; we’ll leave it.) That’s being a student; it’s all about beneficent intermediaries.

Perhaps this is part of why I have this nagging sense that one can’t be a proper adult as student. … Get me out of here!!*

But! I do so want to write a thesis. I want to learn from the best mathematicians around me how to do better math. I want to re-learn important things I should have learned in classes but there just wasn’t time and/or I had my motivations all mixed up. With a complete absence of arbitrary deadlines or point schemes – oh frabjous day!!

I want to be a person with a job. And that job is to do research and teach math. It happens in an academic setting, with fun perks like libraries, cookie time, and seminars. (Also free bus fare, gym access, cheap concert tickets… I do not underestimate the perks of being a student!) But it stays distinct from student-mode.

That was my goal, going into this semester: stay out of student mode. I found I could not achieve it – the drag of the academic routine is strong. It pulled me in, from that first long, full Monday. I failed to attain that free, clear orbit where the people in charge of their own fate circle above a maelstrom of backpacks, assignments, exams, IDs, viruses, planners, and student activities. Not an adult yet. >=

In part, I failed because of homework. And that is why I want to burn it with the fire of 50 flame throwers till it crumples in an inconsequential pile of ash and slinks away. (!!)(Perhaps?)

The end.

P.S. Does that orbit really exist?? I feel I need to know. If being on the other side of the student-faculty divide only brings its own arbitrary deadlines and a different cast of the inexorable academic routine… I need to know.

Reading this over, I find it may give the impression that I’m genuinely unhappy to be still in grad school. Which is not true! There is an old (usual?) kind of student – the take classes, do homework, follow a curriculum kind – which I no longer want to be, because I’m NOT AT THAT STAGE anymore. But perhaps there’s a PhD candidate, research phase, kind of student, which I really want to figure out how to be. The strength of my rejection of the old mode, I suspect, stems from the strength of my attraction to the new.

It also has a certain flavor of teenage rebellion to it, for which I can only apologize. I should perhaps admit my continued dependence on (and appreciation for) beneficent intermediaries in various aspects of my life. It’s just that I don’t think I need them to teach me how to learn math in a class setting anymore.

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