Thursday, November 8, 2012

Research papers: A major flaw of the education system

I have two 15-page papers due after Thanksgiving, and I'm starting to experience some procrastination anxiety. I'm far more behind than I should be. More than once over the past several weeks I have seriously questioned my state of mind when I decided it would be "fun" to give up my well-earned freedom and dive back into school again.

I. Hate. Research. Papers.

Not only do I hate them, but I think they're a major flaw of the education system. As an English major undergrad, I wrote my fair share of papers (though I brilliantly maneuvered my schedule so that somehow the longest research paper I ever had to write was 12 pages long, and that was for my senior capstone class).

My sole complaint of my academic experience has centered on the focus the system puts on research. Research is all well and good if you plan to get a PhD in some obscure subject, but for us normal people, I never saw the value in it.

There are several reasons for this. First is that parameters (number of pages and scholarly sources) and MLA style got way too much attention. I always felt that teachers were discouraging me from using my own brain because unless I had "evidence" from some faceless scholar to back up each of my arguments, they would tell me my paper was lacking in some way. I wasted so much time trying to get MLA citations right, and teachers wasted even more time emphasizing the importance of italicizing book titles and enclosing journal articles in quotation marks. I've also always had a hard time meeting the minimum page requirement; I am a very concise thinker, and therefore writer, and it really bugs me that I get punished for having the ability to say something in 20 words instead of 100.

Second, I have never actually learned anything useful from any of the research papers I have done. This is probably because of the way I approach research papers--getting the stupid thing done rather than adding my thoughts to the ongoing conversation. The only thing good about finishing a research paper is turning it in so I can finally cleanse it from my brain.

Third, it seems like academia is trying to turn us all into researchers rather than people with actual skills. This is the main reason why I favored my editing minor over my English major; in the minor, we practiced doing actual things that editors do, like editing, indexing, and proofing layouts. In the major, we spent hours rifting through the library's website, looking for sources for our research papers. Sure, we got a lot of writing practice, but I think we would have been much better served learning how to write persuasively and interestingly rather than wasting all of our time on the library website. I loved that my English major taught me how to think, but it wasn't the research papers that did that--it was the response papers and the class discussions that broadened my horizon.

Fourth, I hate talking like an academic. It takes all the fun out of writing if you have to sound like a stuffy old intellectual. I have to eliminate almost all traces of me in order to conform to proper standards. It must be incredibly awful to grade research papers.

Fifth, I strongly suspect that most of the time, teachers make us write papers and then do a boring presentation just so they don't have to prepare any material for two weeks. I will forever despise them for that.

But that's the way the system works. I doubt a rant from me will change anything, especially since those with the power won't pay it any mind if I sound like a real human being.

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