Being the only year three in Technology and World Change (TWC) class is turning out to be quite an experience. Firstly, TWC is by and large a year one course. You get all sorts of rhetorical questions that don't expect an answer (I'm being rhetorical here) from friends pertaining to doing TWC in year three as a weird thing. My standard reply is that it's better than being a legendary year four TWC student.
Secondly, you get to make observations for all sorts of reasons. You can observe the behaviour of year ones to ascertain if (a) you were equally stupid when you were a year one, or (b) the apparent "intelligence level" of new students is declining by the batch.
I am inclined to think that the behaviour appears to be getting less and less intelligent. No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to recall any of my classes I endured in year one (or any other class thus far for that matter) being as mired in such seeming stupidity as my TWC class is. And I'm not blaming any individual in particular. I think a lot of this has to do with a systematic problem - there must be reasons why freshmen are becoming increasingly perceived as being more absurdly "unintelligent". There must be herd mentality related reasons why such behaviour is being extorted.
I think the level of competitiveness, channelled through a certain particular sense, has definitely risen. As the years go by, SMU is moving further and further away from its original ideal of being an institution with a student body that thought differently, critically and, dare I posit it, virtuously. The class participation, bell curve and GPA system, amongst other things, increasingly facilitates an incentive system that is exploited by disgusting yet effective tactics of quantity over quality. It doesn't matter what is being contributed when speaking up for class participation, as long as the professor notes the volume of your participation. It doesn't matter if the class learns something from your presentation, as long as you pretend to be able to cover as much analysis as possible, a lot of which is smokey nonsense. It doesn't matter if you lose some friends along the way, as long as your group forming strategy leads to assignments and presentations that go down well with the professor. What implicitly becomes increasingly emphasized, as encouraged by the incentive system adopted by SMU, is one's GPA as the only bottomline because it appears to lead on to a good resume and a job. If you thought your year was bad enough, wait til you observe the later batches. I couldn't even believe it myself, but it is happening.
I had a field day for my presentation in class today. When these kids were shooting our group questions during the Q&A of our presentation, you could practically feel the glee each one had in believing he/she had come up with the perfect question to send us packing. I happily served it right back to every single one of them. It was helluva satisfying, to say the least.
At least, the professor has proven himself to be someone who is passionate about knowledge. He spends each class patiently trying to pique our interest in tracing the development of technology through history, along which the rise of agriculture, the renaissance period, and various other milestones were discussed. I have definitely learnt a lot, and I enjoy listening to his explanations and descriptives about how technology has evolved over the centuries, much of which I believe I will takeaway with me forever. I get the strong suspicion that much of his enthusiasm is lost on the students with a different perception on the usefulness of this class though, and at the back of their heads each one is calculating how to "eliminate thy neighbour".
But let's be positive I guess. If anything particularly useful can be identified out of my three years of giving presentations and taking questions, it's that one should focus on knowing the material one is to present inside out rather than memorizing a stupid script and looking dumb in the process. Also, present with as much of a genuine intention to explain as possible. By really believing that you want to educate your classmates and let them know of an idea you have, you will establish a connection because you desire it and appear far more natural and understandable. Lastly, appear confident in everything you say, even if you know you're throwing an epic smoke grenade. This is facilitated of course by knowing the material so that even you'd convince yourself of your own confidence.