Here is some academic advisement from beyond the grave by deceased Southern Illinois University philosophy professor George McClure. He contributed this essay for issue #1 of BASEMENT, an underground newspaper in Carbondale, IL that came off the press in the form of 3,000 8 page tabloids April 1, 1989. Space and time constraints resulted in the omission of this piece. Written over 25 years ago, it may or may not be relevant for you today, but I’ve been carrying the typewritten manuscript with me for the duration and submit it for your edification.
Suggestions from an old SIU-C watcher for new entrants to our system:
This is addressed to those people who want to get an education, whatever that means. Part of what it means to me is that you’d like to exit the place a bit smarter and more open for new possibilities than you were when you got here. Also, of course, you’d like to be equipped with some abilities that would make you more able to earn a living in the present (awful) real world. I don’t think these are two exclusively eliminative options. But you have to work at it because the external bureaucracy isn’t set up to encourage education. I mean, the officials who operate the offices and advisement centers and loan offices (with a few important exceptions I’ll mention later) are just trying to do their jobs as defined by their bosses. Few persons of authority you’ll talk to are disinterested counselors as to how to trick SIU into giving you a decent education.
Well, but wait for a second. Why should you want a decent education for Christ’s sake? I’m not sure. God knows there are plenty of clods and sods who’ve made a name for themselves without any benefit of the slightest knowledge of anything whatever—and without any demonstrable skills in activities above the level of guile and thievery. It’s hard to say briefly, but a lot of good people, for the last couple of millennia, have thought that having some sense of what’s going on, and some sense of what’s important for human life, is a better guide to the good life than simply sticking your head where the wind only blows one way. Education, as I’m using the term, doesn’t by any means guarantee that you’ll have that sense, or that you’ll always be clear about why you got the shaft, but it usually puts you in a position to detect its entrance, and, after the first shock, figure out some alternative responses.
To get practical: here are some suggestions about getting an education at SIU (not listed in order of importance):
Avoid all professional colleges (except possibly engineering) during your first two years. Register in some college like liberal arts where you don’t have many requirements and you do have a lot of electives. The reason is that in most of the professional (I use that word with revulsion and sneers) colleges, the faculty are not themselves educated. They (most, not all) came through the American system of the ’60’s and ’70’s when their schools (of education, business, agriculture, etc.) were not training teachers or scientists, just turning out graduates as fast as they could, in order to boost their own claims to academic respectability. The more graduates they turned out, the more important they were. If anyone disagreed about their academic credentials, they started their own journals in which they could publish junk that older journals would never have accepted. If you seek academic advice from these professionals, you will get mush, because they themselves never had an education, and, not having missed it (since they are making more money than any history prof) they are not aware of its benefits. When, in time, life catches up with them–e.g., they turn alcoholic, change religions or wives–they have no resources from which to draw sustenance, hope, or understanding. To comfort themselves in their loneliness, they try to recruit you into the same meaningless career they are victims of. Misery loves company. Also, it boosts the student credit hour ratio.
The college of education is especially to be shunned. Here is the largest collection of pseudo-social scientists masquerading as professionals who know something about how to do what no one knows how to do very well: educate the young. But remind yourselves that in the last year or so, major professors of education (themselves!) have recommended (in SCIENCE magazine, for example) that colleges of education at Harvard, Yale, etc. be abolished. The idea is that prospective teachers should learn something–chemistry, English, or whatever it is they need to be grammar school teachers or high school teachers on the side, and then, go and teach chemistry or reading, to children. No doubt, there are a few helpful hints and pieces of wisdom (gained through experience, not “scientific studies”) that can be passed on to you, later, when you need it. But don’t enter a college that exists mostly to give meaningless degrees to not very bright white males who want to move up from principal to superintendent.
Second piece of advice: Work to develop an active network of informants about quality courses. (Not who gives an A for a lay, but who seems on top of the field, or at least, who isn’t totally boring.) There are many helpful people here at SIU who will give such networking aid, if asked. But you do have to ask, seriously and persistently. There are advisers, in the college of Liberal Arts, and in the college of Science, who really know what kind of class Prof. Blow runs, and whether Blow is understandable, knowledgeable, boring, or what. They also know whether this is a class that a person simply wishing to broaden their education can benefit from, or whether this is a class strictly for majors already committed to the field.
Then, too, you need to sidle up to older students who seem, at least, to have been around longer. Who do they think is good? If the older and wiser guy starts telling you about who is an easy grade, you can turn them off. We all want an easy grade, but, damnit, we want to learn a little something too.
Third piece of advice: if the above two fail, rely on your own cunning. Sign up for six or seven classes that appear to you to offer some interesting possibilities. Go to the first few sessions of all of them, and, if you can, talk to instructors or TA’s about what’s going to happen in the class. In any case, listen to what the instructor seems to be planning, and listen for any signs of intelligibility or understanding of the subject matter. Also, look out for stylistic incompatibility. I mean, look out for whether the manner in which this particular person seems to conduct the class is compatible with your own limits of tolerance. The prof may be very good, but also be possessed of a manner you can’t abide. No point in sticking around if you’re going to be repulsed by every tone and nuance in the prof’s delivery. You may decide that you can tolerate the style in order to get the material. Whatever. But, at the end of the week or two, make your decision about which three or four or five of the classes you’ll stick with, and drop the others. At this stage, it won’t cost you anything except the hassle of bureaucracy. And you will improve your chances of ending up with classes you enjoy and or learn something from. If, later in the semester, it turns out that you made a mistake about this or that class, drop it officially. That means, go back to the damned bureaucracy and fill out the proper forms for dropping. Don’t just blow it off. If you do that, you’ll get an F on your record, and it’s harder to get rid of those things. The system, and its computers, are set up for the person who goes through lock-step, obeying all channeling rules, and never changing her mind or having those second thoughts produced by growth and development.
The moral of this polemic is that you can, if you’re devious enough, get an education at SIU, but you have to scheme and plot to do it.