Saturday, October 24, 2015

Guest auto-ethnographer

Today I am featuring a college anthropology paper by my son, and it's worth a read-through. I find it hilarious, but that's just my weird sense of humor. See what you think.

Many anthropologists have found endless delight in studying the traditions of Texas A&M University, and the slaves of these traditions – the Aggies. Every year, thousands of seemingly normal people permanently bind themselves to deeply-rooted traditions such as Aggie Football, the Corps of Cadets, and certain dorm rivalries.

Guest Aggie auto-ethnographer
But there is one tradition on the A&M campus that looms under the externals, threatening to swallow up the very reason most of us are here. The reality of this phenomenon is well known among students and faculty alike. In fact, this is a tradition that transcends cultural bounds, extending its influence beyond the scope of Kyle Field, yes, even to such far wastelands as Austin and its schools. It is a tradition adhered to by most students, though some in greater degrees than others. Some of the adherents hate it; others revel in it. I myself have been a victim of the snares of this long-standing tradition – the tradition of Procrastination.

Although Procrastination becomes an enticing habit to most who dabble in it, many have embraced their addiction, potentially enslaving themselves to a lifetime of mediocrity. Instead of searching for a way out, they turn it into an art.

This habit is usually formed early in the student’s life, beginning as early as childhood. Through repeated patterns of putting off work until the last possible moment, study habits suffer along with many other areas of life. But what does Procrastination look like for the Aggie? I can only speak for myself, but I am sure that the intricate patterns of emotion, attitude, and reasoning are quite similar for other college students who have also experienced this well-founded tradition.

To start off, there are three basic subcultures that comprise the greater academic body of Aggie society – the Over-Ambitious, the Passers, and the Irreparably Lazy. Not all students fit into one of these categories, but the vast majority do.

There's more than just Procrastination as an Aggie tradition.
The Over-Ambitious never procrastinate unless forced to by a conflict between equally-weighted assignments. This situation commonly throws them into a kind of despair, making them irritable, antisocial, and seclusive. For these students, the greatest sin is to compromise their 4.0 grade point average. Some of them will even impose this conviction on the less studious, saying condescending things when they find out their friend still hasn't bought books in the fourth week of class, for example. (Not all diligent students fit into this category. Some exercise grace and humility in the midst of academic success).

On the other end of the spectrum, the Irreparably Lazy does no real work. He does not even procrastinate. He puts off work indefinitely and inevitably fails out of college. Again, there are exceptions, such as the genius who does no work but still excels; or the ‘F’ student who receives an ‘A’ through a glitch in the records.

These students may dabble in Procrastination in one way or another, but this essay is primarily concerned with a third type of student. This is the one who perseveres through most of his classes, sometimes pulling the minimum ‘D’, but usually championing a ‘B’ or a ‘C’. He is usually involved in some form of social organization that competes for his study time, and always wins. This is the Passer.

My tutelage in the art of Procrastination began in Junior High. I soon discovered that tardiness, apathy, and forgetfulness were acceptable as long as I had a good report card to show for it. In high school, particularly in my English writing classes, I further developed my skill at manipulating the teacher in order to maximize my non-work. My classmates and I developed immense pride in the fact that we could find a loophole in any assignment, give the teacher so much grief that she conceded ground, and still come out with low ‘A’s.

The first few weeks of college brought with it a harsh realization that my skill at selective laziness needed reevaluation. But instead of realizing my wicked pride, and asking God to give me the discipline and diligence that he wants, I determined all the more to refine my skills in the Art of Procrastination. I learned how to discern what homework was easier left undone. I perfected the stresses of cramming two hours before a test (or learning not to even bother). I learned how to fool myself into thinking that my priorities do not allow for studying right now. Once the priorities were set, I usually ignored all of them and instead did something more fun. I joined the multitudes who are really organized for the first day of class, reward themselves with a three week “rest” period, and then get hopelessly behind before the first barrage of tests. I became a Passer.

As a Passer, I was exposed to an unspoken system of checks and balances, composed of the Over-Ambitious and the Irreparably Lazy. I was confined to the middle majority by the clear limits of Excellence on one side and Failure on the other. I justified my idleness by comparing myself to the vast sea of other second-rate students. In some ways, college culture could be likened to an “honor-shame” society, but American students are usually not motivated by familial honor as many international students are. Instead, they are driven into the mediocre middle by a fear of the extremes. No student envies the shame a classmate feels when he is announced as the curve-breaker on a difficult test. Many a student would be embarrassed if he were seen as an avid reader who is genuinely interested in his classes. Equally shameful, though, is to be the only failing grade in the whole class. Anyone would say that they want to excel, but in practice, they are limited by a fear of leaving the status quo.

As one who has actively participated in the tradition of Procrastination, I will illustrate the actions of a typical study period and the rationale behind them. As previously mentioned, a Passer is likely to feel competent and organized during the first week of class. After all, the only thing to keep track of is the syllabus. This leads to a false hope that this semester will be the easiest yet, and thus elicits a hearty resolution to study hard this semester. With his sense of accomplishment at an all-time high, the Passer rewards himself with a two or three week rest period. I do not know from what he rests, but he rests nonetheless. He skips the lectures that he deems “unimportant” and decides instead to teach himself. All he needs to do is look at the syllabus and study the assigned readings. He thinks a lot about this revolutionary concept, but never actually carries it out. Once test time begins to loom in the near future, he shifts his mental priorities from eventually learning the material to eventually cramming for the test. But even this will not begin until the night before.

Just before bed-time, he will take out his notes, read the first line, and then decide to clean his room. After all, he still has not fully unpacked from move-in. Three hours later, when his room is spotless, he cleans the dishes and does some laundry. Test time is the cleanest time for a dorm or college apartment. After settling back down to study, the Passer will study the syllabus thoroughly, determining what grades are necessary for future tests and papers in order to put forth minimal effort on this one. Satisfied with his studious efforts, he retires to bed with the intention of waking up early to study hard. This early rise rarely happens, and the test is left unprepared for. This way of life is a trap. It covers up stress for a little bit, but magnifies it at the end.

Should this tradition be done away with? Yes, it should be. But sadly, an art such as Procrastination is not easily uprooted from the very lifestyle and attitude of a majority. In our individualistic culture, dramatic change from laziness to diligence will only happen on an individual level. The fear of alienation from the majority must be overcome, and we must learn to appreciate what we have in education.

Note from Karen, Quirky Cultivator:
My son's essay, above, was due at 5 p.m. on a school day. The professor did not put up with any tardiness. My son printed out the essay and ran at full speed to the professor's office. He was out of breath when he screeched to a halt at the assistant's desk. He was a minute late, and the assistant reminded him of the professor's no-tolerance policy. My son frantically looked around for a clock that said 5:00, and there was one. Loophole found; procrastination wins again.

Leave a comment and let me know if you have ever been a Procrastinator (I love that capital P on an uncommon noun.)