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Open Letter to Learning
Dear Academia, and all you embody and represent,

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to study at University for the last two years. It truly has been an enriching experience, and has allowed me to do a great many things I would otherwise have not had the chance to do. However, it is with sadness and regret that I feel we must now part ways.

I have elected to live in a world where people are not dependent on your validation and approval. Whether or not this world exists is of little consequence to me - if it means I have to live inside my own head to escape the suffocation and pressure of your system, then I will do so. I don't think I'm alone when I tell you that my happiness is more important to me than whether I am able to integrate a function on a given interval. I would rather be well adjusted with adequate social skills than have the knowledge required to construct an artificial neural net. I would rather be a person than a source of information.

Previously I have been able to co-exist as both of these, but I fear I may be drawing near to a point where I shall have to make a choice. Your constraints on me have started to destroy what sanity I have left, and all you are willing to replace my it with are differential equations and matrix manipulation. I worry that, if left in your incapable hands for much longer, I will become some sort of post-breakdown drone, incapable of creative expression, able only to perform mathematical tasks and think logically. While I thank you for affording me the opportunity to do this, I must inform you that I will decline.

I am not yet at this crucial crossroads, but I see little reason why I should not arrive there in the near future, so I will have a few things to consider. The first is the fact that a job will be more difficult to find in the event that I decide I want no more of your insane attempts at education. However, I recognise that a job I could get with a qualification in "Mathematics and Artificial Intelligence" is not likely to be a job I wish to keep. The jobs I want are as inaccessible with my degree as without one at all.

Allegedly graduates earn more money. You (by which I mean Academia in general) have told me this time and time again, because you believe it will keep me in University. Well here is a newsflash for you - whores get paid a lot, and get to have sex too, but you don't see me leaping to get a job as one of those. Obviously your winning argument isn't as compelling as you might think. So perhaps you should ask yourself why I'm even here in the first place. Well I shall tell you.

I came to University for two reasons. The first, more minor reason, is for what it would do for me as a person, how it would shape me, who it would turn me into. Well I believe I've become that person, and have evolved into somebody who can grow further without the need for University to catalyze it. I'm mature enough now that I can continue my journey through life without a forced learning program to help me make new friends. The second, and far more pressing, reason that I came here was because everybody expected it of me. "He's clever, he'll go on to University". Since the age of about eight, I've never considered not continuing my education for as many years as I could. Apparently, it's what smart people do, and it's what successful people do.

Well I've just about had enough of doing what's expected of me. Smart people don't do essays set by others for a deadline, because they know they don't need to. Smart people don't write programs their teachers tell them to, because they realise how futile it is. And this new person I've grown into doesn't see why others' expectations are so important any more. What I do with my life ought to be what I want to do, rather than what others think would be the next logical step.

So, I have exams approaching me - it's the end of the year, and in a month, it'll all be over. I was led to believe that the advantage of my degree is not that it teaches me how to differentiate complex functions over imaginary intervals (which has no applications outside of academia), but that it would teach me methods for approaching difficult problems, and would train me to think in a way that would help me in a certain type of job. Given this, I have a question - where is this reflected in our examinations? I can think analytically like a mathematician, I've been able to for the last 5 years easily. I can logically solve problems, and I can approach them from several different angles, applying various methods, just like I'm meant to be able to. This is the applicable knowledge from my degree. Where is this reflected in our examinations? As far as I know, in order to get a good degree, I must memorise a lot of equations, a lot of tedious mathematical methods, some highly application-specific knowledge of Artificial Intelligence, and a few standard definitions.

In a year and a half, when I approach a future employer, and he looks at my CV and is trying to assess my suitability for my job, what is he or she going to do? They're going to look at what I achieved in my degree, and believe that this in some way represents my abilities and skills. If I can get my way to an interview, I may well be able to explain that the grade I get is dependent on the specifics I could recall in the exam rather than the applicable lessons he or she is looking for. Perhaps this is what I should go for.

A decision has to be reached. I will try my hardest in these exams. I will do my best, and if my best is not good enough, then I won't keep on trying. If at first you don't succeed, don't waste time repeating the exercise, but instead do something else at which you might succeed. In twenty years time, do I want to say "I went to University, had to repeat my second year and resit exams, but I got there in the end", or do I want to say "I went to University for two years, then left in disgust and went on to write full time"? Perhaps I'm the only person who sees that the second would be vastly preferable to the first, but at the end of the day, I'm the only person who needs to.

So here is my vague attempt at some sort of threat. If I fail in my exams, and am either unable to retake them or fail the resits, then that is it. I'm through with being spoon fed knowledge that must be committed to memory for the duration of my degree but which will have no applications afterwards. I used to think I was well suited to life as an academic, I have the memory for it. But you only live once, and I demand more from my lifetime than this. Mathematics and Artificial Intelligence be damned, I'd rather learn to dance than learn to add up sums. I'd sooner think for myself than program a machine to do it. I would rather go it alone with what intelligence I've already accumulated than spend another year being taught things I don't need to know. I would rather die than not live.

So, Academia, this is it. If I fail to meet your requirements this time around, then I shall turn my back on you and do something that makes me happy, and doesn't tax my sanity.



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Try to get this published. Somewhere. If you won't, I will.

I wouldn't - seriously! Its a train of thought every undergrad seems to go through! I know I did!

Even if I thought it was good enough, I wouldn't know where to start...

I apologise in advance if this sounds condescending but ... suffocation and pressure of your system ... don't ever get a stressful job James - comparatively speaking Uni is a walk in the park.

Still look on the bright side - if you were at Heriot Watt there's a possibility you could have me as a visiting personal mentor! Have sympathy for those that do!

I'll leave you with that chilling thought! :0)


So at least there are yet people I can look down on then ;o)

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Uni isn't for people who want to get a better/higher paid job whatsoever. Uni is for people who are too scared to take matters into their own hands and live their life and get a proper job. At my dad's work they are hiring high-level system programmers and are specifically looking for people *without* degree's (please note this is a very high paid job.

The richest person i know is my uncle's g/f.....she's a stripper.

My friends sister just completed her english lit degree at leicester, she got a 1st...she works part-time in a pet shop on £4.50 an hour.

Bill Gates in one of the richest men in the world and he doesn't even have GCSE's.

In short, your doing the right thing. Follow your dream, fuck Uni, it's for people who can't think for themselves.

*no offence to anyone :P*

Hehe, the ''No offence'' bit pleased me :)

Nah, I dunno. I am going to university next year and... I'm not sure why. There was a long period where I wasn't sure whether I was going to, if i even wanted to. One thing I know is that considering the fact I've managed to coast this far in life, unless I develop a decent work-ethic within a couple of months of going to uni, i'll fail anyway.

I think one big thing is the impact Sixth Form had on me. If I compare the difference in the level of complexity of mycritical/analytical faculties now with those I had post-high school/pre-sixth form, the difference really is astronomical, and I'm kinda hoping that university does that again.

And also, I've been unemployed for the last 3 months,which isn't for lack of trying. My CV, which has 9 GCSEs at A-C, 4 A-Levels and 1 AS has failed utterly at getting me a job in a video shop, an art store and a pub amongst others.

You're right, a lot of it probably is lack of directionality/cowardice on my part, but it's still what I wanna do right now...

And also Dan, I'm not disputing your examples, but isn't there a liberal amount of bias giving 3 examples of instances where lack of university education is a plus, and giving only 1 instance where uni has (thus far) proven to be not particularly helpful? No offence ;)

In reply

I was intrigued by your posting, and agree with you on a number of counts. Perhaps most obviously, the exam system. I feel personally that despite being intelligent and having worked my arse off, if at the end of the day, my exams don't reflect this, then I have nothing with which to prove my worth to employers or whatever.
However, in my opinion, I think you're wrong about some things, as is caramelised. I get the impression from both of you that you think that the whole point of university is, fair enough, to improve your maturity, but also a) to get a job and b) because people expect you to. (Although jamie didn't state that outright as his reasons for going, he implied it later on).
Id like to put it to you that my motivation for going to university is a combination of these things, but with an overriding feature that neither of you seem to have considered. I want to go to university to learn about the subject I love. Although I also desire the skills that go along with it, I am motivated almost entirely by a desire to enjoy the learning itself, not the riff raff that goes along with it. Of course, I want to make new friends, but I don't see the university course as a *forced learning schedule* or anything, (although I appreciate that having deadlines and what not when you don't actually *have* to may seem constricting), I see it as an opportunity to immerse myself in my chosen subject. And so in that sense, Caramelised's claim that university is *academically a waste of time,* seems to be somewhat nonsensical. In fact, the only way university could really be a waste of time, is if you don't go for the academics at all.
I also disapproved of the comparison between a job in A.I. and being a whore. No, you don't see you jumping to be a whore, but then whore's didn't choose to study whoring at university did they? They didn't make that decision, as you have. And the comment, *they get to have sex as well." Oh please. And you think you're mature?
Perhaps, maturity is being able to accept that you made a mistake in deciding to go to university and accepting that, although its unfortunate, a lot of people love university and so the only person this reflects on is you, not the university system as a whole.
Finally, the comment "smart people don't write essays for a deadline,": You claim that you want a writing career. Writing for a deadline is going to be your whole life, if that's what you choose, and then, when you decide you don't like that anymore...maybe you'll realise that its time to move on to something else. Perhaps, then, you'll see that although there may be flaws in the system, ultimately it's you who's choosing to move on, not the system forcing you.
And so, in conclusion, cane me if you will. I accept that I have not yet been to university, and don't yet know its oppressive ways. However, I do also know that I will go and try it, and if I don't like it I will try something else and appreciate that I wasn't for university, not that university isn't for anyone.

I want to go to university to learn about the subject I love

I point that i considered. I was going to go to Univeristy simply for my love of philosophy and my desire to learn more.

Who told you that can only learn at University?

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(re: whore comment) And you think you're mature?

You still have much to learn of irony. It was meant as an example, and a deliberately outrageous one at that.

I used to love Maths, and I used to love AI. You may well find that doing a subject you love at University is the one thing guaranteed to make you hate it. You may not, I dunno...

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Re: In reply (Anonymous) Expand

The pain of learning

I agree with some parts of your post, but on the whole it seems to me that you are missing the point of going through the educational system. Allow me to explain. I have gone through the pre-med circle of hell at an Ivy League university, and have had numerous friends who survived the engineering curriculum. The single most important thing that we took away from our University experience was not the algorithms or biochemical pathways; those were forgotten soon after exams and can be looked up anytime in a reference book.

No, the most important thing we learned was how to sit our asses down and work like motherfuckers. For weeks and months at a time, on topics we did not particularly care about or even care for, surviving temporary lapses in sanity and personal hygiene. Because if you wish to truly accomplish anything in life, that's how you will have to apply yourself to get it done.

The educational system is a weedout process designed to separate the hardworking and determined from the merely intelligent. Each country's system is slightly different, but the overall strategy is the same: force the student to do lots of really hard and mind-numbing work, most of it only tangentially related to what they are really meant to study.

So when an employer looks at someone's degree and sees that they graduated with a First, Summa Cum Laude, or whatever your academic distinction of choice, they know that the person is more than just smart. They know that that person is driven and determined and able to do the hard, ugly work. Any job or calling that you choose to pursue will have stretches like that, when you have to do stuff you really don't want to; and a degree can be considered a certificate of refusing to give up.

Also, don't forget that you're getting a free education. People in the US pay $35000 per year in order to have the same opportunity that you're about to throw away because you're unwilling to do the work.

Re: The pain of learning

I would rather an employer looked at me and thought "He can think reasonably about things and express himself creatively" than "He can sit down and concentrate on banal sums"...

And my education is by no means free - it's not nearly as costly as yours, but it's not doing my bank balance any favours... :o)

And I'm not about to throw it away. I am merely giving it careful and due consideration.

Re: The pain of learning

LOL, same anonymous, commenting on this now epic posting.
Although, as you may have been able to tell, that I agree with you on a lot of things on this one I have to play devil's advocate for the other side.
Im not entirely sure what I think on this one, but SHOULD the purpose of education be to see if someone can endure suffering? Shouldn't someone, who is of the most supreme intelligence, be able to swan in through a degree? Since if they, in the end, have the same skills as the people who had to slog their guts out, then surely they should have the same qualification. Whether they have learned and matured as much in the process is a different matter.
And so, although I admire you for your perseverence and Im not sure where I stand on this one, could it be possible that you are missing the point as well?
And so, I open the floor, what IS the point of education?

That's all I can think of to say really. I've been thinking about going back to uni over the last few weeks and the more I think about it now the less and less it appeals. I know why I wanted to go in the first place and were I still like that I think I still would.

But I'm not and the question arises: considering all that I would be leaving behind, is it worth it?

Why do I keep coming up with "no"?

Actually, the answer is "yes", since you've never lived away from home on your own, and therefore, it might be a valuable experience for you ;o)

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