I thought about discussing whether this was a reflection on Harvard entrance standards or whether education actually teaches you anything. Then I remembered this nifty little saying: In academia you end up knowing more and more about less and less.

I remember being 12 years old. I used to impress my parents with my ability to answer grown-up Jeopardy questions quite easily. I had a basic grasp of a number of subjects. Fourteen years and a university degree later, I have to wait for topics that I’m well-versed in. Sometimes I even have a hard time with kids’ Jeopardy. As I haven’t kept up with some of the things I studied in school like math and chemistry, and I’m not interested in them as it pertains to my everyday life, the subjects have all just become a blur.

Is that a failing of the education system? I took six subjects in my final year of high school, but they pointed in one general direction. In the UK, most students going to university will only take two to three subjects and are expected to have chosen their degree subject. In France, students choose what they will specialize in after their first year of secondary school and it’s hard to change careers in their system because every job has a very specific path. Does this sort of education result in less well-rounded adults?

With that said, I’ll give the Crimsons the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe these students are physics majors and haven’t looked at a map since ninth grade.

And for future reference, it’s Ottawa, people. OTTAWA.

This article was originally published on Matador Network.

2 thoughts on “Harvard Students Don’t Know What the Capital of Canada Is”

  1. Hi Alyssa!

    I often wonder similar things. I decided once and for all to quit university after giving it a go on two separate occasions, enrolling on two different courses, but losing interest about half way through the first year. The first time I lost interest, I also had some personal issues going on after a friend of a friend committed suicide. But the second time I just felt like it was a genuine waste of time (it was a degree in Social and Political Sciences).

    Over the weekend a girl, also from England, arrived in Maldives, the capital city of Male’, to join our company in teaching languages to the local people. I’m 20 years old, no degree to my name, but I have taught English in Vietnam, when I was 19 for about 5 months, and in Italy for 3, and I’ve been here in Maldives for just a couple months and will be until Decemeber. It still doesn’t match a degree though, or well I thought. The new girl is 26 years old, but has an impressive degree in English and Teaching English as a foreign language. I didn’t know degrees like that existed! But after spending the weekend with her it soon became apparent she doesn’t have a clue. Instead of referring to the local people as Maldivian’s, they’re all just “Asians”. She came across as extremely ignorant. Asked me how I can possibly go out and buy groceries by myself- that kind of thing. Then I learnt this is the first real solo experience she’s ever had, and of course she’s bound to have culture shock, I did too, but I was way more open minded. Sometimes I feel like the degree gets in the way of having an open mind. With a degree it has to be one way or else it’s wrong (as in following set criteria and marking schemes). She must have said a dozen times about how it’s not like this back home. Of course it isn’t- that’s the very reason why I’m here. Why any ex-pat is here!

    I feel like there should be a way of doing something for 3/4 years and attaining something equivalent in status to a bachelors degree. For example, I plan to continue to live and work around the world for years and years and years. I won’t have exams, but I suppose I am constantly taking modules in Culture, world religions, adjusting oneself to a new environment, working in different professions, crossing language barriers, travelling solo, stop taking things for granted, witnessing real world problems like starvation, poverty, and an absence of human rights- and actively doing something about it. Becoming less judgemental, more open-minded, less self-righteous (I feel that’s an English trait, especially when we’re abroad), letting go of material desires. And stereotypes. And living a meaningful and fulfilling life.

    My friends are graduating in a month or two. The same friends I partied with in our first year. I love them, but will they be able to say anything similar to that? I am sorry for them that the answer is “No” but equally sorry for myself that I will forever have people looking down on me for my lack of credentials.

    1. Hi Sarah,

      Mark Twain said something along the lines of him never letting his schooling get in the way of his education and I think it summarizes very poignantly what you’re saying here. I’m sorry to hear about your friend and you’ve clearly had a lot of life experience – real life experience – which often accounts for one’s maturity a more than going to university. Also, there’s the whole argument that university is just delaying adulthood. I think what you’re talking about also depends on what you study – sure English Lit isn’t going to make you a citizen of the world. On the other hand, I know people who have studied (myself included) Diaspora and transnational studies, Caribbean history, international relations, critical race theory, gender, sexuality, and so on. Those humanistic courses that are often based on a different way of viewing the world will result in a different opinion of life than something like a standard English degree. What she studied was probably what she was interested in, and that may not have been international studies. In any case, I agree with what you’re saying, but (not that I’m not guilty of this myself) I think you’re judging the new girl a little bit too. One’s first experience abroad can be very daunting and it would have been great to have someone more experienced lead the way!

      All in all, I think it goes to show you shouldn’t be intimidated by anyone else, because everyone is different and there are things you’re better at than others and vice versa. In the end, we can all learn from each other! Thanks for your thought provoking comment, Sarah, I hope to see you back here!

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