By contributing writer Dan Zembrosky
There are exactly two ways to begin and end your college career: Intoxicated out of your mind, naked, and possibly covered in some sort of industrial strength lubricant… or, if you're like a less adventurous/lube-hungry version of me, by taking a regimen of your school's most necessary courses: Pass/Fail GE's.
General Education courses can be a slippery arena for the green-horned, spotless-livered, soft-skinned freshman ilk. Before charging into one these often tumultuous hotbeds of inactivity, it is necessary to understand what kind of whisper-embattled war zone you'll be walking into.
General Education courses come in two varieties: The courses that may confer some feasibly necessary chunk of information into your resin-crusted brain, and those that try to CHANGE YOU.
And let's face it, you aren't perfect. In fact, chances are you aren't very good at anything, and smell like a closet filled with mothballs and finely-aged Caesar salad (at least if you're anything like my freshman year roommate). Nearly every facet of college life is a thinly-veiled attempt to remedy this affliction and numerous other shortcomings in your intellect, physical appearance, and reproductive abilities. General Education courses are no exception to this pattern.
Your basic math, chemistry, and physics courses strive to do nothing more than modestly offset the fact that you have no idea how any single item you use in everyday life works, why it works, or how it even came into your possession (hint: your parents and/or drug dealer). If you attend any type of “higher learning” (insert superfluous drug joke) institution that wasn't specifically designed to turn you into evangelical lobbyist, chances are the remainder of your Gen Ed courses consist of some combination of writing, history, psychology, philosophy, art, and possibly music (insert superfluous drug joke). These topics may sound innocnt enough, but each one has been carefully crafted to alter the way you perceive the world, yourself, minorities and PERCEPTION ITSELF.
The key to surviving these attempts at indoctrination is to understand what each tries to accomplish, and then actively counter the message that you will ultimately need to memorize and rephrase into your own terms for your final paper.
If there is one message that the American public has come to embrace, it is to never trust a historian—and rightfully so. History professors want nothing more than to erase every fact, every historical tidbit you absorbed in the scant spans you've been alive, and replace it with their own. Why? Because they are history professors, they wrote a book, and they need someone to buy it, study it, and repeat it back to them like some sort of fleshy Teddy Ruxpin. Without this intellectual validation, the painful understanding will surface that they have spent their lives commenting on important things OTHER people did—important people who aren't your professor, a sandy husk of a human artifice.
How to Survive History:
As you will learn in your psychology course, learning in one scenario makes you more likely to remember those facts when in a similar situation. You will need to memorize large chunks of dates, facts, rhetoric, and phrases your professor thinks are clever, but there is no need to retain this information.
When studying, do so under heavy intoxication. You will also need to take your test while in the same affected condition, but rest assured that when you stumble out of that lecture hall you will remember almost nothing of your studies come morning. As a bonus, you now have the uncanny ability to sound incredibly knowledgeable of historical events while drunk enough to wet your pants, had you not taken them off to wipe up your vomit.
The first problem you will face in a philosophy course is the daunting task of undertaking something called a “mental exercise.” You aren't used to this type of activity, and, upon failing your first attempt, were struck blind for several minutes thereafter. After wandering into a dining hall and unsuccessfully trying to wash your eyes with what turned out to be corn chowder, you've given up all hope of mastering any such intellectual feat. This is okay, since, like any General Education course, you won't need to actually think. Passing the course is easy, but surviving with your moral character, or lack thereof, intact, is another matter entirely.
How to Survive Philosophy:
Disregard anything the professor states. If he tries to prove there is no god, which he surely will in order to sway you from your clearly pious ways, just ask him who made the big bang… and if a watch could evolve on its own. That will shut him up.
Then congratulate yourself, you just beat Reason—Descartes would be proud. Now just memorize the PowerPoint slides he put online and keep that information carefully separated from any important regions of your mind.
Think you know the appropriate places to stick a comma and how to work it just right? Much like your cocksmanship, these abilities fall short. Feel emasculated? Well just wait until your writing TA uses the razor-thin edge of the essay you spent a whole two hours on while watching Fear Factor to cut you a brand new covenant with God. That's right, right on your favorite writing implement. Soon enough your whole identity will unravel as you find yourself banned from using “to be” verbs.
Once your fragile psyche is shattered, the faculty will be free to cram your smooth, waxy cortex full of leftist, communist and “gaytabulous! [sic]” rhetoric.
How to Survive Writing:
Curl into the fetal position and play dead. Your bear-like TA will paw at you for a few minutes before growing bored and turning to the next lively kill. Failing that, create a living will and testament for your loved ones that instructs them how to take care of your vegetable-like visage once the course has ended.
You thought you could slip a real easy one in, huh? “Formations of Modern Art” sounded like a walk in the park, right? Turns out it’s more of a walk in the park with an 80-year-old senile crazy-man who can communicate only through anachronistic stories about “dandies” and “the colored.” You aren't sure if he’s talking about a school of thought, or is just plain racist. All you know is that there are a series of essay exams he'll be grading personally.
How to Survive Art:
Befriend your TA and trick him into acknowledging your professor's senility. Engineer a coup de tat that allows the TAs to wrest control of paper-grading from his withered, drool-covered fingers. Then go down on your TA. Easy as pie. Cream pie.
You knew you would have some trouble learning those trickier beats, or doing sight-readings, but something has gone horribly wrong. That's right, its Gregorian Chant time, or as it is known in academic circles, “nap time.” You never knew you could get bedsores from a lecture hall desk, but fate has seen fit to show you otherwise. If you attend one more lecture you just might slip into a coma and never return… an alternative that is growing continually more attractive.
How to Survive Music:
Pack your ears with wax and tie yourself to the mast. Sometimes the oldest solutions are the best solutions.
It's all fun and games until you start to become convinced you are a dysthymic, Aspergers suffering mild amnesiac with an addictive personality and a disposition that suggests a susceptibility to paranoid hypochondria. Walking into this lecture hall is like walking out of Plato's cave and into some kind of epiphanical nightmare. You will never be the same.
How to Survive Psychology:
Stay in the cave. Stay there as long as you can. That, or develop delusions of grandeur. They are the best kind of delusions, or so they believe.
Now that you are suitably armed against the mind-altering effects of education, it is time to start, and end, your college career. Are you ready?
MUCH LIKE SEX BUDDIES, YOU SHOULD NOT GET EMOTIONALLY INVOLVED.
A common rookie mistake upon entering the hallowed halls of your prestigious University… or the sandy, unventilated corridors of your prestigious Junior Trade College, is acting upon your perverse lust for high marks. One's desire to begin college as a straight-A wonder-child is a hubris matched only by ancient Greek myth, albeit far less entertaining and/or incestuous.
In college, you don't need grades.
Not all the time, anyway. If a course doesn't need to be taken for a grade, unless you are certain you can get an A+ without spending one Snoodworthy second of your time, take it pass/fail. Your first semester will bear witness to a unique and fanciful moment in the history of your life, provided you have the lack of responsibilities necessary to grab it like a long lost child and shake it until every possible moment of fun, every opportunity for hedonistic excess, falls before you.
The beginning of college may present you these unique opportunities, but there is no reason to blow all these wonderful GE's in your first year. Save some, like UNO cards during a game of UNO cards. You will soon discover (after the five or so years it takes you to hammer out that communications major of yours) that you desperately want to do nothing more than absorb every aspect of college you have grown to love, the aspects not endorsed by the school. Well, my friend, the good news is you can. Just slam down those saved GE's in one solid chunk and rest assured you won't likely have to attend more than eight days of class the entire semester.
Chances are that you have, in the academically fruitful semesters between your freshman and super-senior year, somehow absorbed a compendium of knowledge equivalent to that of a well-trained circus animal. Luckily, these are all the skills you’ll need to complete a GE course with a minimum of work. In fact, you’ll likely retain enough information to pass the course without any effort at all.
Try this: Walk into class on the first day, bring some type of writing device (I prefer a comically over-sized pencil so my professor REALLY KNOWS when I'm theoretically writing something down), then wait. During most courses on the first day the professor will throw out a basic question, something to garner the level of understanding their students may hold. When this is asked, thrust your hand, and billy-club of a pencil, into the air and wiggle them. Wiggle them like you've never wiggled anything before. When surely called upon, due to your professor's intense penchant for wiggling things, calmly repeat the question and follow it with an answer that incorporates every topic listed in the freshly copied syllabus you so diligently grabbed on your way into class.
Silence is good, it takes a moment to absorb the avalanche of information you just unleashed upon your professor. He will then meekly thank you. At this point, assure him/her that it was no trouble, put your sunglasses on, get up, and leave. You shant need to return for a fortnight at least. The rest of your semester is now free for floor parties, bar hopping, satire writing and debilitating identity crises.