Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

College material

with 3 comments

Occasionally, the question of who is and is not college material is relevant to my writings. This is a tricky area, seeing e.g. that different fields differ in how much ability to think and how much ability to memorize is needed—even complications like grade inflation and underwater basket-weaving aside. Approaches like drawing a line at an I.Q. of a given value (e.g. 110 or 115) are too inflexible both in this regard and through neglecting criteria like the willingness to put in the work. (In other words, a certain I.Q. might be a requirement, but is not, alone, sufficient.)

Based on my own observations, I would suggest that a better heuristic is to consider as college material those who are able to consistently learn through a mixture of reading* and own thinking—without needing lectures, detailed** other instruction by professors, TAs, whatnot, or the help of other students. Lectures are there for people who cannot read and/or cannot think for themselves! (See an older text for more information on why lectures are idiotic. Note especially the centuries old Samuel Johnson quote.)

*Typically, appropriate books; however, other types of texts can be relevant, including scientific articles and various ad-hoc texts written for a specific course.

**Needing occasional help, e.g. due to an unclear passage in a book or a rare blind-spot, might be acceptable. Even here, however, the preferred solution should be to spend more time thinking until one “gets it” through own efforts, possibly aided by alternative written sources.

Regrettably, the current trend goes in the other direction, e.g. with Germany increasing the proportion of “mandatory presence” lectures during the Bologna process—college is by now based on the assumption that the average student is not college material, be it by my measure or by an I.Q. measure. Certainly, the school system is neither geared at giving students skills of this type, nor at filtering them by such skills.

In a bigger picture, this measure points to fundamental flaws in the education process, including the wasteful use of professors for holding lectures—contrary to popular opinion, the main tasks of a professor should relate to research and not education. Or consider the point of going to college: For a student with the capability to learn on his own, this point is to get the degree that own studies cannot provide—the other benefits he can gain on his own. Why not reshape colleges to focus on independent learning with opportunities to just have knowledge and understanding tested?*

*Seen as a non-rhetorical question, answers like “Because we would be hard-pressed to charge an arm and a leg per year just for a testing opportunity!” arise.

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Written by michaeleriksson

October 25, 2018 at 2:27 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] topic with some overlap with my recent text on “college material” is math ability and its interpretation: The world is apparently filled with people who are (a) […]

  2. […] Academically poor students tend to cost a lot more money than the better students, e.g. in that they require more support outside of lectures and that they are the main reason why the highly inefficient lecture system is still “needed”. […]

  3. […] Strong students are able to learn mostly on their own and based on books. Cf. an earlier text on college material. In at least a U.S. context, it also helps with hiding the problem of sub-grade-level […]


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