I’ve noticed something. It’s a very strange thing to hear in a place of learning. You might know what I’m talking about. It is the strange, uncomfortable and deafening silence after a professor asks a question. I’ve been in classes where it literally stretched for a minute and a half before the professor asked a follow-up. It doesn’t matter how difficult the question is—even if it is purely opinion—there will be a palpable silence immediately following a professor’s query.
It could be that no one in the room has any idea how to answer the question. It could be that no one was paying attention enough to hear and therefore respond to the question. It could be that there is a diffusion of responsibility phenomenon following a professor posing particular inquires. It could be these things, but I don’t think that’s it.
I think that we are afraid. I know that I’ve been.
I’ve been afraid of looking stupid in front of peers, professors and myself. Forget about it. I’ve said some stupid stuff in class that I still remember, if only for the look that the professor gave me (you know the one). I’ve learned that saying something, even when it’s the self-referential hot mess that is the “I have no idea at all what the correct answer to this question may be, but I’m going to take a shot in the dark anyway” (insert massive train wreck of a theory here, end with overly self-conscious apology, stay after class for the ‘I’m sorry about what I said during class, I swear I’m not usually so unintelligent, or rather, I am usually more articulate about said unintelligence’ packaged deal)—is worth it, even if you are totally off the mark, because it moves the learning process forward. If you’re lucky, it will make other people laugh and take this whole situation a little less seriously. The minute representation of who you are when you are going all Hermione Granger up in this piece, or making Hiroshima look quaint, is roughly .000000000001 percent of who you are as a person.
In other news, I finally submitted to Sallie Mae’s email harassment campaign and checked my student loan account. It turns out that I currently owe them $18,000. Over the next 31 days, I will accrue $64.57 more in debt. The 31 days immediately following that, I will owe them slightly more than that $64.57 yet again and so on and so forth. That’s how compound interest works, to my understanding. What makes this really interesting is that this money that I agreed to borrow when I was significantly less informed about life is being used by the American government to pay its outstanding bills—you know, for stuff like war and bailing out AIG. The only downside is that instead of buying planned obsolescent capitalist paraphernalia like a house or a car, I get the opportunity to live in a sort of debt slavery limbo. I don’t know about you, but I am really looking forward to this.
The truth is this, comrades: We of low class, we of independence, we the “I guess I should go to college generation”, we of that prophesied future, we, the ones who dare to get excited by learning and bettering ourselves, have bought in. We have, of course, been played. Even as you signed that document that said “I accept these loans,” you probably felt your ass clench. And so we have been forced to play the fool in order to be productive members of society. It might be my imagination, but I feel the dramatic irony is strong here.
So what does this have to do with that eerie silence? Everything.
You and I have paid and will pay for this privilege that we call higher education. It’s a done deal. You’re here. The dunce hat has been placed ever so callously on our heads. Since this is the case, the logical question for the thrifty, pragmatic capitalist student is: Are we getting our money’s worth out of this experience? The learning process necessitates falling gracelessly on our asses a large amount of the time. Can we honestly say that we are putting in the effort to get a worthy end product when we are so afraid of looking stupid? That train left the station a long time ago, and there is no way to turn it around again.
This is why I’m totally fine making jokes, looking like an idiot in class and asking those terribly specific, annoying follow-up questions that are relevant to the topic at hand. I’m just getting my money’s worth. Falling on your face, asking the dumb questions, beating your head against the wall until you are laughing hysterically and don’t know why … consider it a good investment.