SITTING in the back of a lecture in Convocation Hall can often feel like an exercise in mass distraction. In a sea of a thousand laptops, screens flash cyclically between lecture notes, Facebook chats, and YouTube videos. Students with virtually no knowledge of the course material line up to the soapbox, making comments that manage to be simultaneously boastful and complete non sequiturs. Once, during one of my lectures, a group of students even ordered a pizza and ate it in the first row.
It is clear that the way students view the classroom — and perhaps, education itself — is changing drastically.
When the atmosphere of a university is criticized, it is often the institution itself that bears the brunt of the blame. In many cases, this is for good reason; immense class sizes, unsympathetic instructors, and overwhelming stress can certainly compromise a student’s learning.
U of T has rightfully been criticized in the past for its glacial response to student distress, which results in a lack of adequate support services for students struggling with sexual violence, mental health issues, or financial problems. These are relevant and pressing issues on which the administration has been dragging its heels, and we as students are entitled to hold them to account.
It is questionable, however, whether the university itself deserves to be chastised for the alleged hardships of every single student on campus.
For example, the university is notorious for its draconian academic expectations, but professors should expect a certain quality in their students’ work. It is difficult to sympathize with students who start writing a paper two hours before it’s due or shirk off studying for an exam and then pile the blame for their academic shortcomings on the university.
This issue is aggravated by the disrespect many students show to both their instructors and their fellow students. Some perpetrators are overcome with the fierce and uncontrollable need to interject and tout their own abilities in the middle of lecture, wasting time that could be spent on the material. Others do everything they can to distract others from learning, by noisily crunching on three-course meals, taking selfies, catching up on the latest gossip, or trading jabs at the professor.
Education is vitally important; why else would we pay thousands of dollars in tuition and activity fees and dedicate years of our lives to crank out a degree? Focus on the actual weight of the educational opportunity we have at our disposal is often put aside in favour of more trivial matters. Gripes about boring classes and looming deadlines pervade conversations, while our true aims — what we want to learn and achieve along the way — fade to the background.
The university has many intellectual resources and extra-curricular opportunities to bolster its students’ experiences, and it deserves to be lauded for that. While being mindful of its shortcomings, we should also pay respect to the institution and not take these opportunities for granted; at least as an educational hub, the university is doing its job.
We should also be mindful that, although we admittedly pay a hefty price for membership, many others do not have access to it at all. Countless students face financial and social obstacles when graduating from high school, let alone are able to study at an institution like U of T.
This is a problem that programs like the World University Services of Canada, which sponsors refugee students, are attempting to alleviate. Comparing these students to those leisurely napping in the Con Hall balcony is a tall order.
With exams approaching and pressure mounting, the desire to complain and vent about our obligations is certainly understandable. At the same time, we should keep in mind that, in a sense, we are lucky to have these things on our plates at all. Approaching education from a conscious perspective means understanding the significance of what we are learning.
Teodora Pasca is a second-year student at Innis College studying ethics, society, and law and criminology. She is an associate comment editor for The Varsity. Her column appears every three weeks.