Wednesday, January 11, 2012

4 Things I Learned Last Semester

In and outside of the classroom at Macalester, you’re always learning all kinds of new information and getting fresh takes on what you’ve learned before. Curious people excel at Macalester for just that reason, because around every corner is another new fact, point of view, or theory. Here’s a list of a four of the things I learned this past semester that stand out to me now, a few weeks in to break.

1. There are approximately 6,000 languages spoken in the world and about 50% are expected to go extinct before the end of the century.

I was shocked when I learned this in "Endangered/Minority Languages," a Linguistics course. First of all, I was amazed to learn about all of the languages and incredible potential for the human mind to create fascinatingly diverse ways to talk about the world around us. However, I was appalled by the news that so many were expected to die without hope and really felt a need to investigate and affect this situation. People are pushed frequently to the major languages on Earth like English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, etc. and cannot maintain their knowledge of indigenous languages. Throughout the course we investigated the validity of this claim and the potential to curb it in the future. At some point I plan to work in the field of endangered and minority languages to help people continue speaking the language of their choice without pressure from an oppressor. (If you're interested in learning more about this, check out my blog post on the class from earlier in the year.)

2. In the long run, the U.S. economy can function with a deficit of 2-3 % of GDP.

All right, so that is a little dry, but it’s sort of a weird empirical fact from my "Adam Smith and Karl Marx" class. This means that a country like the United States can run a deficit for years and still continue to grow sustainably from inflation and investment for the future. It puts the arguments that the United States needs to curb all its deficits into perspective that really the United States needs to reduce the deficit from its current level of 6-7 %, but in the long run it doesn’t need to go to 0. Empiric data has shown debt not to be an issue. However, I am skeptical of what was viewed as “functioning” in this analysis, as well as what was taken into effect for possible clashes. This fact surprised me, made me skeptical of current debates, and then I grew skeptical of the fact itself. I’m sure I’ll learn more facts to counter and complicate this one and, over time, develop a more and more informed point of view on this heated fiscal issue.

3. Write daily, write often, just write for a long term assignment.

This idea wasn’t new, but it finally hit me this semester that this was a great idea. My first year course professor and academic advisor explained this philosophy for getting work done. When assigned an essay just start writing, free write, brainstorm write, and get words on paper. They don’t have to make perfect sense, but get them down early so that you have some idea of what you think. Writing is a process and really it often feels like once you finish your essay you finally know what you really think. That’s great for going back and editing the essay to make sure it matches what you really intended to say, but not if you finish minutes before its due and can’t go back to edit. When you start early, you finish early and then can actually figure out what you meant to say. Sure procrastination seems worth it, while you’re procrastinating, but my professor said to write at least an hour every day for an assignment, and of course more as it approaches and you are not done. The idea here is that you force yourself to get in the mode of thinking for the assignment and get ideas on paper, so that you have a lot to build off of as the deadline approaches. This finally hit me when I had an 18 page term paper due in "Hebrew Bible" and tried to write it in two days. Luckily that was a rough draft, because it did not turn out pretty. After that I started forcing myself to write the day of receiving an assignment, even if my ideas were not even coherent sentences.

4. I learned and was certified in CPR with Macalester First Aid.

Macalester First Aid is a fairly new club at Macalester that offers the service of
Emergency Medical Services for students. In addition to providing EMT training opportunities, there are also opportunities for CPR and First Aid certification. To join the service as a responder, CPR was required, so I signed up for the class and it was really a great thing to learn to do. I became certified in CPR and know that in a situation where someone needed attention I could respond with a useful skill. While the facts and theories and work in the classroom are important for my future, it can often feel inapplicable. Experiences like this give me concrete skills that really feel useful today, at a moment’s notice.

Overall, Macalester is a place full of new and interesting knowledge for the curious and willing learner. Your average classroom is full of students like that eager to learn and teachers who are full of new information. While, not everything is groundbreaking, it’s all relevant to the future and your development and humanity. It’s often said that you learn something new every day. At Macalester, that’s really the case.

- Kyle Coombs '14