A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
This is the view that my colleagues coveted who had dwelt on the inner corridor and had looked at the bottom of the atrium and the offices across the way for many years. This office was my reward for having been at BYU for 20 years.
The inner portion of the Marriott School of Business building was a hollow core with an atrium seven stories high. My office was on the sixth floor on the outer corridor where, thankfully, I had a view of the football stadium and Mount Timpanogos. As soon as it became obvious I was about to retire, various colleagues with less desirable offices began visiting me to check out the office in hopes that they could inherit it.
The old adage "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is never more apt or useful than it is when we are trying to make some changes that will improve our lives. Instant success is wonderful, but few people who lose a little weight keep losing it and then keep it off. Magic results that make us glad we tried something are wonderful, but magic results rarely, if ever, just happen overnight. More than likely, the path from point A (our starting point) to point B (where we want to end up) is littered with broken glass, unmarked detours, naysayers, stumbles, setbacks, dark clouds, delays, failures, tears, frustration, anger, roadblocks, temptations to quit, and every other negative and heartbreaking event that can influence us to just quit, give up, stop trying. "Why does it matter?" we ask. After all, we've been fat for years and we're still alive. Or, "I never have been able to do this or that or succeed at anything that will help me improve, so why would I think I can succeed now?"
The first step in following today's task, keep trying, is to throw out all the garbage. Collect all of the records of negativism and self-proclaimed failures that you keep running through your brain and haul them to the trash after you smash them to smithereens. Say good by to naysayers and tell them, thank you, I love you, but I am pursuing my own course now and I no longer need your constant reminders about what a failure I am. Hold your head up, as my wife keeps reminding me, and look the future straight in the eye. Sweep the broken glass off the pathway, toss the detour signs, throw all of your inclinations to just give up down the garbage disposal, turn it on, grind up your sour and now worthless roadblocks, and go on your way.
While working my way through college, I almost gave up several times. One quarter (we were on the quarter system, not the semester system) I just quit going to class and earned 14 hours of technical failures. It took me another three years to clean up those grades and raise my average so I could get into graduate school. I started work at 11:00 p.m. with a six foot dust mop cleaning the main gym and then the locker rooms, walked 15 blocks in wintry subzero weather to the phone company where I was the janitor, walked home around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. and tried to get up for 8 or 9 o'clock classes. I was tired, and some times struggled to buy a can of soup or a can of beans for my next meal while my classmates were all eating at the cafeterias or frat and sorority houses. Why not quit? Why not just give up? I wasn't sure I wanted to major in agriculture anyway, since my main interests were elsewhere.
By fall of that year, I was back in gear. I still had no financial help from any one and was wholly dependent on my ability to juggle several part-time jobs, usually janitor jobs and scrubbing bathrooms, but I was ready to go again. And then I never quit again, not ever. After I married, my wife and I worked together to get through another four years of college with two master's degrees and a Ph.D., and again, between the two of us, we made our own way without a penny of debt. And yes, I even had a part-time janitor job while working on my Ph.D. at the University of Michigan and yes, I was still cleaning bathrooms.
I remembered, from time to time, the words seared on my brain by an elementary school teacher who told my parents, "Dwight starts lots of projects, but he never finishes anything." Well, I had to show her a thing or two. I hope that you will choose even a few changes that you want to make in your life and pursue them with dogged determination. If you don't like the changes in my list, make your own list. But do something. February is whizzing quickly away with one week and one day gone into the history books. Keep trying, write in your journal, choose two or three changes to make and then start on them with renewed determination, and keep on trying. Good luck, from the Curmudgeonly Professor.
I graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1953 with a degree in agricultural economics. I later served on the faculty of the economics department from 1965-1974 and was also, for part of this period, director of the Division of Business and Economic Research. Several times, I was summer janitor in Old Main as a student where one of my tasks was to clean the President's office which is on the second floor on the left of this photo.
Now that you have had five days to consider your do list for 2015, we now come to day 6 and Task number 6: See your doctor. If you haven't had a recent complete medical checkup, it's time to get one.
True, you can improve your weight and your health by eating less, but you need to know something about your body before you go very far in making changes. You need to know if you have diabetes, kidney problems, thyroid problems, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia's, and a host of other possible physical issues. Too many people put off going to the doctor if they think they are fine or if they just plain don't want to go or are afraid of what they might find out. Eating less and moving more are critical steps in improving one's life. But knowing what to eat, and how much and what we should or should not do in starting to move more, are critical steps in keeping us safe and helping us on our way.
After all, your goal in the year 2015 is to make a few changes in your life that will improve your health, longevity, disposition, weight, outlook on life, and whatever else you would like to see improved or changed. After you have a battery of blood, heart, and urine tests, plus whatever else you need, you can proceed with confidence and a more cheerful outlook on your life for the remaining 359 days and then for the rest of your life.
When the first yellow leaf shows itself, we are both saddened and pleased--saddened because we are not certain we are ready for summer to be over, and pleased because we love autumn, the change of colors, and the changes in our lives that autumn brings. September has always been my special month, partly because it is my birthday month and, like a child with a pair of new shoes, we all feel just a bit special when people honor us for our birthday. September is the month of two great songs full of nostalgia and special meaning: September Song, and September in the Rain.
When we were children, we lived twelve miles from town on an isolated farm in the Penrose Valley of northwest Wyoming. With two sisters near my age, two younger sisters, and a younger brother born not too long before I left home, we were left to improvise our own play time and adventures. Play time and adventures became a thing of the past when we got a bit older because then play time became sugar beet hoeing time, haying time, wheat shocking time, chore time with the pigs, chickens, and helping to milk the cows. I think that, mostly, we loved being out of doors in the countryside with the smells of newly cut alfalfa, the aroma of the Shoshone River near our home drifting over the night air, the noisy crickets, and the peacefulness of our little valley. But while our classmates were going to the Saturday afternoon matinees at the Teton Theater in Powell, we were sweating in the summer sun in the beet and hayfields.
But then, when September came, we were glad to be back in school. School meant that, for five days a week, we rode a cold and freezing school bus for nearly an hour each way to school. But at least we were in town with other children and teachers and our isolation was over. In the early grades, school meant a brand new box of Crayolas, new shoes, maybe other new clothes, rarely purchased and often sewn on mother's treadle sewing machine. So for nine months out of the year, our isolation was over and we were left on our own to see what we could learn and how well we could do in school.
I never got out of school until my 70th birthday with two exceptions: I spent about two and a half years as research director for the Wyoming Legislature in Cheyenne Wyoming, and nearly a year as an economist in the Office of Tax Analysis in the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D. C. Other than those two lapses, I either was going to school or teaching school for over sixty years, forty-five of them teaching in the classroom. Some former teachers I talk to are thankful not to be teaching any more. I still miss the classroom--I miss the students, I miss the challenge of developing material for new classes, I miss the interchange in lecture rooms of 400 students, I miss reading books in my field, I miss the general atmosphere of school and books and classes and students and faculty.
I do not miss faculty meetings, most of which over 45 years were an utter waste of time. I do not miss office politics. I do not miss whiny and crybaby students who are absolutely certain they should have received an A in my class when their average was about 65% and then some even had their daddy and mommy come in to complain. What I do miss is the energy and shining light that bright students bring to school and to the classroom and to their learning efforts and their performance in and out of the classroom. But then, inevitably comes the first exam. And I do not miss preparing, administering, or grading it or any of the following exams. There is nothing glorious in monitoring an exam of 400 students in a classroom with the odor of nervous perspiration wafting over a room full of fidgeting, stressed-out students.
So then this fall is the 14th autumn I have been away from school. I watch the colors change on Lone Peak, a massive sentinel mountain that guards the south Salt Lake Valley, and the foggy clouds that enshroud Mt. Timpanogos, a seven-mile behemoth of a mountain I could see from my sixth floor office in the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young in Provo. I watch the colors change along the Jordan River, the yellows more yellow every day, the bright yellow aspen patches on the high reaches of Lone Peak fade and disappear, and then the leaves start to fall and soon the bony branches of formerly leaf-clad trees are waving hopelessly in the wind. And I think, where are they all? Where are all the thousands and thousands of students who sat through my classes as I tortured them with the fine points of economic analysis? Where do they live? Are they doctors, or lawyers, or CPAs, or truck drivers or computer specialists or raising families? What do they remember? Do they remember the word egregious which I taught to thousands of students?
And then I think of the next generation of pre-schoolers, trained to learn letters and words and numbers on their iPads before they ever start preschool or kindergarten. Will this jump in early learning give them a running start in learning and will they become better problem solvers and learn to make intelligent decisions? As for me, just give me the super-duper large box of new Crayolas, which I never was able to afford, and I will be happy to start school with my shiny new shoes and my new pair of bib overalls and my long blond bangs hanging down in my face. And then I will begin to learn.
Five years ago I wrote the following post when my granddaughter, Whitney, began her freshman year of college at Texas Tech. This post has been one of the most popular posts I have ever written. Hardly a week goes by that it doesn't garner a few hits and at school time, it has registered as high as 25% of all hits for the week. I hadn't read this post for five years and, upon rereading it, decided that the advice was still timely. Meanwhile, in five years, my granddaughter is nearly ready to graduate from Texas Tech with a degree in history and become a history teacher. It took her an extra year because she needed to work to keep herself in school. We are so proud of her for her accomplishments. I hope that your own granddaughter may profit from this advice based on 45 years of college teaching. Comments are welcome.
Advice to my Granddaughter on Starting Her Freshman Year of College
There are only a few landmark experiences in life that are truly memorable, and one of those is becoming a freshman at college. Leaving home, family, friends, neighborhoods, and leaving all of those wonderful conveniences of home such as laundry, food, and an unspeakably messy room, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of bewildered freshmen go off to colleges across the land every fall. My granddaughter told me she was nervous about it all, and I promised her that within a few days she would be so busy and so caught up in her new life, her new friends, the routine of her classes, and the sheer excitement of a new environment which promises so many things to see and learn, that she would get over being nervous very soon. And, as we old timers know from vast experience, the newness of college wears off, like the sheen from a new romance, and then we settle in comfortably as we watch all the greenies go through what we went through.
After nearly 45 years of teaching college, I didn't mean to preach to my granddaughter, but I did offer a few suggestions based on what I had learned from teaching and knowing many thousands of students, many of them freshmen. So here are my basic suggestions and cautions for my granddaughter and for any other beginning college freshman:
I once asked one of my most brilliant and successful students, "What is the secret of your academic success?" His answer: "I kept up with the class and I learned the material." There it is. That's all there is. Too many students came to me during every semester asking "What can I do to improve my grade?" And the answer is always the same: "Keep up. Learn the material. Don't get behind. But make sure you actually learn the material backward and forward and don't kid yourself."
Coming out of high school, you were stuck in class all day every day, pretty much. Gee, in college, I only go to class maybe 15 hours a week and I have all this spare time. I'll have plenty of time to get around to studying, so meanwhile I'll party, socialize, go to games, and have a good old time. Fifteen hours a week is nothing. Big, big, mistake. The 15 hours a week is deceptive because you need to study two or three hours for every hour you spend in class if you want to succeed. And you can't kill time for awhile and expect to make it up.
Don't get caught in a bind so you have to cram for tests.
For heaven's sake, go to class. Listen and take careful notes.
Read the syllabus and do exactly what the instructor asks you to do. Don't make up your own rules or requirements if you don't like what's in the syllabus. Do it anyway. And do it on time so you don't have to make excuses for being late.
Don't wonder if you really need to know something. You never know what will be on the exam, so learn everything, absolutely everything, and then you won't be nervous during tests and you can ace them.
Here are a couple of things I didn't tell her: Don't try to bamboozle your professor by telling him or her "I really knew the material but your exam didn't let me show my knowledge." Oh brother. How many times did I hear that timeworn weak excuse in 45 years? Pay attention in class and don't visit, text, play video games, or invent other distractions. Don't ever turn your electronic junk on during class. Ever. I'm not kidding.
Don't get caught up in a quick college romance as soon as you hit campus. Too many of my student problems were caused by overinvolvement too soon. Give college a chance to settle in and give yourself a chance to settle into college and college life.
Wean yourself away from home. Don't call home with every little whine. Stand on your own feet. But do keep in touch with parents, and do show gratitude for what they are doing to send you off to college.
You'll figure the rest of it out. Just be thankful you are in a situation where you can be a college freshman. Take it all in, the atmosphere, the fun, the friends, the sports, the activities, the intramurals, the parties--but never forget why you are there in the first place.
Having said all that, I'm still sad that I'm not back in the classroom this fall after being gone for eight years. I never got tired of teaching. As I look at the photo of my beautiful young granddaughter, and as I can feel her excitement for life and learning, I miss my life among 18-22 year olds which lasted more than four decades. I could never imagine what life would be like outside of the University, and I never was willing to try it for very long. College was my home. The kids were my family. Learning was my profession. And I never got tired of the exuberance, the eagerness, and the nervous anticipation of greeting a new class of 400 freshmen, so recently transplanted from parents and home, to my classroom. And I always envisioned about 800 parents at home wondering how their 400 freshmen were doing. And whether they all, in fact, did hate economics as much as they professed to do. I just wonder where all my kids have gone, what they have accomplished, and whether they remember anything except a few corny jokes I told in class to try and keep them awake. I hope even just a few became teachers. There is no better life. So off my granddaughter goes to Texas Tech, to become a Red Raider. I'm anxious to watch and see how it all turns out.
While I was washing the window just to the left of the entrance as an 18 year old student janitor in about 1951, I got stung by a bee, had an allergic reaction with immediate swelling, and had to be taken to the hospital which, fortunately, was just across the street to the south.
In September of 1956 I began studies for my Ph.D. in economics at the University of Michigan. I was 24, we had two little kids, including a two week old baby. I had a student seat in the 98th row in the end zone and was able only to go to two games while I was there since the study load had frightened the daylights out of me.
Commemorating the Sixth Anniversary of the Curmudgeonly Professor Blog: My second post in November 2007, with comments on the Kennedy assassination the day of my doctoral dissertation defense at the University of Michigan
When I was in graduate school at the University of Michigan in the mid-1950s the ultimate in calculators was the sleek little Monroematic which was deemed a major step up from the old cumbersome Fridens. By l963 when I returned to Michigan to complete my degree so that I wouldn't have to work for the Treasury for the rest of my life, the university had installed the wondrous IBM 650 computer which consisted of a large room full of flashing vacuum tubes. I was working on a doctoral dissertation on estimating travel demand for various travel modes based on survey results from the Survey Research Center, where I had a research assistantship. Data entry required copying numbers by hand on large spreadsheets, and then giving these spreadsheets to a keypunch operator. Skilled keypunch operators were highly valued people because you couldn't proceed without them. The IBM punchcards then had to be hauled to the marvelous IBM 650 computer to feed it the data. I remember hauling heavy boxes of IBM punchcards across the snowy and icy campus and needing to stop and put my load down several times before I arrived at the computer center. Then the 650, the marvel of the ages, chomped up the data and calculated all of my estimating equations and fed me the results. This beat the heck out of trying to solve multiple simultaneous equations on the Monroematic. Although one night I stayed all night for my results, since grad students were low priority users. Lightening shorted the computer at 4:30 a.m., and so another evening must be spent recalculating the results. For the annual Michigan economic forecast, at least 23 simultaneous equations had to be solved in a 23 x 23 matrix, more or less. I was told when I started my doctoral work at Michigan that the legendary Arty Goldberger could do this in less than 24 hours on the Monroematic and the lowly grad students brought the coffee to keep him going. One mistake and you're dead; you have to start all over again. It took me half the winter to code the survey results by hand on spreadsheets for my dissertation research, and even more time to recalculate equations which I had messed up.
Now it was time to write the dissertation. In high school I learned to type on an old upright L.C. Smith typewriter, and by the time I was a senior I bought a Royal portable, which was my pride and joy. When I arrived at Michigan to finish my dissertation in 1962, I bought a wonderful IBM Selectric II typewriter which I could type 80 or 90 words per minute on, not counting mistakes. Velna, my wife, typed dissertations for other students at night while our four kids were crammed into two bunk beds in our two-bedroom student apartment after she had worked all day on campus. We typed all of the dozens and dozens of statistical tables with the results cranked out by the IBM 650 computer and all of the pages of text. Then my esteemed committee picked it apart and we typed it all again. And again. And then, we thought it was finished and one of my professors got off the boat from a time spent in Greece, looked at the table of contents and said, "Put this here, and put that there, and what in the world do you think you're doing with this organization?" This situation was not a democratic one, so what choice did we have? If you have mistake on page 3 that changes the sequence of the following hundreds of pages, you crank the whole blasted thing out again. And not without complaints.
And then, I came back to Ann Arbor from Penn State, where I had accepted a faculty position, on November 22, 1963 for my final oral defense of my dissertation. I remember someone asked me the fatal question as to whether I had made an original contribution to knowledge. Holy cow. Someone else kindly intervened and said that if we expected all doctoral students to make original contributions to knowledge we would never award any Ph.D.s. So after I stumbled around for awhile with my embryonic knowledge of econometrics, I was excused while my fate was deliberated. When I went into the outer room, the secretary told me the President had been shot. I immediately went back to the examining room and told my faculty committee, knowing that some of them had been directly involved with the Kennedy administration. I had just spent a year at the Treasury, where I could watch Caroline ride her pony on the south lawn of the White House. No further deliberations took place. The orals were over. I was summarily told I had passed with no discussion. But there was no joy, no jubilation, no relief. Just sadness, long faces and teary eyes as a dark shroud covered the earth. I retrieved my eleven year old son who had come to Ann Arbor with me and drove through the brilliant autumn of the Pennsylvania hills back to State College, a palette of blazing colors lighting my way and reminding me that life must go on. I may have become a newly minted doctor of philosophy, but that accomplishment didn't seem to matter. To be continued.....
My first quarter of college at the University of Wyoming, I lived in a room prepared for two students on the second floor of the sheep barn at the University of Wyoming Livestock Farm. I worked at the University Dairy several mornings each week during the milking time, and Saturday usually had some glorious job like scrubbing manure specks off the walls of the milking parlor with a wire brush while all my fraternity brethren were busy going to football games, drinking beer, and having a blast. The building behind me and my friend is the original Wyoming Territorial Prison, used for a time by the University of Wyoming, and now restored to its original format as a museum. The date for this photo would be about 1950.
For forty-five years September for me meant going back to school. Not counting eleven years of elementary-high school classes (I was hauled out of the second grade and plunked in the third for making up stories about what I did over Saturday and Sunday every Monday morning, hence eleven years), four years of undergrad school, and four years of grad school. I retired thirteen years ago from teaching economics.
I still have moments of wishing I could still be back in school. I miss the classroom, I miss the college kids, I miss the atmosphere. I feel more than a little lost after spending a lifetime either attending or teaching school. The only time I wasn't in school during all those years was the time I spent nearly three years working as research director for the Wyoming Legislature and a year I spent at the Treasury Department in Washington, D. C. Those years were enough to convince me that I did not want to be a civil servant for the federal government and I did not want to try and withstand the political turmoil of working in state government. So I went back to Ann Arbor, wrote my dissertation, and stayed in school ever after.
Here are a few things I do not miss about no longer being a teacher:
Faculty meetings. Faculty meetings are held to inform people about what is going on, instill enthusiasm, share important information. I don't remember a faculty meeting in all my years in school that I was glad to have attended. Usually one or two monopolizers and hydraulic hand raisers take up the time to impress everyone with how much they know. The rest of us are twiddling our thumbs and hoping we can get our course outlines from the copy center in time for the first class.
Grade whiners. No one, apparently, ever gets a fair grade, except for those who score A grades on exams. Everyone else is unfairly graded, and we teachers have not recognized their brilliance. Nor have we recognize how unfair our exams are, daring to ask questions straight out of the lectures and the text that no one is prepared to answer.
Parents who come in to the office with Junior or Esmerelda to inform me about how brilliant their offspring are and how misguided and unfair I am to have kept them from getting their scholarship renewed or getting into med school or into the accounting program, etc., etc., etc.
Athletes who flunk and then blame me for being kicked off the team. Often followed by phone calls from their mothers. Of course, my class was the only one they failed.
Giving tests. BYU had a nice testing innovation called the Testing Center, so I rarely needed, in later years, to give an exam in class. Thus, I was spared breathing the heavy atmosphere of nervous perspiration in classes of 400 students and telling students not to ask me how to answer the question after I had warned them not to ask me how to answer the question. That, of course, is why they were being tested. To see if the could answer the question.
Grading tests. Over my years, I estimate I had well over 20,000 students in my classes in several universities. I remember many Christmas eves and summer days when I should have had a day off but spent the time agonizing over grade distributions, doublechecking grade entries, and making sure there were no extenuating circumstances that warranted special consideration.
Students who keep asking "Will it be on the test?", or "Do we have to know that?" after they have been warned, rewarned, and re-rewarned to never, never, ask this question.
I could generally keep my large classes under control, rarely having problems with smaller ones, but occasionally I would get some immature goofoffs whose only purpose in attending class was to make my life miserable.
I could probably come up with a few more miseries of teaching, but next time I'll tell you about the rewards and the things I loved about teaching. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
I am going to take you on a trip from St. George UT, in the southwest corner of the state, to the Salt Lake Valley along I-15, one of the major transcontinental routes linking to I-70 east to Denver in mid-state, and I-80 east through Wyoming at Salt Lake. This photo is of the landscape immediately north of St. George. All photos were taken through the windshield at a speed of either 76 or 81 miles per hour, depending on posted speed, since my sons allow one mph leeway to obey the law. They were taken with a Canon 7D with telephoto lens. I will be dragging this trip out for awhile. For those who drive the I-15 corridor often, you may gain a new appreciation for the scenery that we all tend to take for granted. For flatlanders and friends from around the world, you can visualize more clearly what it is like to live in a landscape dominated by mountains. Enjoy the trip.
Since the year is nearly one-third over by the end of March, and since today is about the middle of March, I thought it appropriate to inform my faithful blog followers of my accomplishments and activities of the past week, as follows:
I have quit my blog several times, thinking I was tired of posting stuff after nearly five and one-half years. Besides, all anyone does 24 hours a day now is stay chained to their iPhones and iPads and have forgotten that they are supposed to talk to other people and not spend all their time texting little cutesy messages. Then I took a batch of spring photos and didn't know what else to do with them, so here they are.
I lost my car keys yesterday when we went to lunch and then to the St. George art museum which puts on annual display of pink and white flowering blossoms. When I got home, I realized I didn't have my car keys and had a fit, so to speak. How could I lose my car keys? I have never lost my car keys in 80 and one-half years (almost). So back to the St. George art museum, not expecting to find the keys. Upon entering the museum and mentioning keys to the ladies at the desk, they gleefully produced them before the words were out of my mouth. I had dropped them while trying to untangle my seat belt with a few impolite suggestions, get my huge camera in the car door, and kick the junk out of the way so I could get in the car.
Of course, my camera battery died in mid-photo shoot, whereupon I said we might as well go home. At which time I spent an hour trying to find my camera battery. When my wife came home, I told her of my plight. She came in my "den", picked up some papers, picked up the box beneath the papers, opened the box, rummaged for a moment (I had previously searched self-same box numerous times in previous hour of disgust), picked up a Canon battery charger, and cheerfully said, "Would this be it?" Of course it would be "it." This was the third time this week she found something instantly I had been searching for forever and asked "Would this be it?". Now my camera battery is charged and I can go take some more photos of pink and white flowering trees.
I have spent about 2,000 hours trying to figure out how to format Microsoft Word 2013 manuscripts into Kindle publishing format. I bought about seven formatting manuals on eBooks from Kindle and found myself more confused than ever since everyone had slightly different suggestions and some left out rather egregious lapses in moving ignorant people to the next step. I have given up this project several times.
Other than the above, I have watched numerous episodes of the Duchess of York, which is hard to understand because of the accents, taken out the trash, given up on the Utah Jazz since the Jazz seem to have either stopped playing basketball or they have forgotten how to play basketball, watched BYU go down in flames in the first round of the West Coast Conference tournament to a team that had hardly won a game all season, and thought about cleaning up my den. The latter task remains in the contemplative stage. Meanwhile, my wife keeps hounding me to do my share of the taxes for this year, which would probably take me 15 minutes, max, but which is so daunting a task I can hardly bear the thought of doing it. I hope your year-to-date has been more productive than mine. Have a nice day.
Here we are talking about my undergraduate degree in agricultural economics from the University of Wyoming in 1953. My undergraduate degree was basically a science degree and, indeed, at least one of my classmates used his undergraduate ag degree to apply directly to medical school and was admitted. The majority of the classes were science--zoo, botany, chemistry, a dozen or more agriculture classes in agronomy, animal husbandry, feeds and feeding, etc. Since my interests were broader than ag science, I crowded in four classes in American History, a class in sociology (which I loathed), two required classes in poli sci (which I loathed, but mostly because of a tyrant prof who criticized me in front of the class for the fact that the window blind pull cord broke when he asked me to fix the blind), several courses in journalism (I loved writing and journalism, but could never have graduated in four years had I changed my major), and all of the required courses in education so I could become a high school vocational agriculture teacher. I thought the education classes were ridiculously easy and lacked substance.
I was lucky to graduate in four years, since I had worked 30-40 hours a week all through school to earn enough money for Van Camp's pork and beans and other culinary delights, buy my books, and take my girlfriend to the movies now and then. After we married my senior year, my grades sharply improved and I made all A's spring term, except for one B. Fortunately for that, since grad school reviewers looked at those courses and the grades, overlooking pitiful performance some quarters when I basically just gave up and plodded on in a stupor.
But, over my life, I have regretted not being able to expand my course work to pick up the following subjects:
Classical literature. I know nothing about the classics. I am trying to learn a bit in my old age, but my knowledge of the classics is pathetic.
Literature in general. My only literature consisted of a few measly, anemic, required readings in freshman English. I learned about literature at the Blue Front in Ann Arbor while working on my Ph.D. at Michigan. The Blue Front was a disorganized paperback and newspaper store where I went to pick up the Washington Post and the New York Times. The paperback books were partly in racks, but many were in boxes randomly scattered on the floor. One day, I began sorting through the boxes on the floor and found a copy of Thomas Wolfe's "You Can't Go Home Again." and I was hooked forever. Literature became my tranquilizer for studying economics and trying to pass exams and orals. Thank you Thomas Wolfe for opening the pores of my brain forever, regardless of what the critics keep saying about your book.
Math. My math education was pathetic. Economics, at the graduate level, is based on mathematical competence. I had high school algebra, high school geometry (which I goofed off in and didn't learn anything), and another course in college algebra. My math education wouldn't measure up to my grandkids' eighth grade math competence. And here I was competing with my close friend and fellow Ph.D. classmate who had an honors undergrad degree in math from Swarthmore. All my college and teaching and research career, I suffered from math inadequacy.
Art and art history.
Though I crammed in four courses in American History, which I loved, and partly because the professor, Gale McGee (who went on to become U.S. Senator and Ambassador to the Organization of American States), was as masterful a lecturer as I ever had anywhere in college, I knew nothing about ancient or European history or world history in general.
Logic and philosophy. Profoundly ignorant on these topics.
So, college kids, don't begrudge your general ed requirements and don't goof off when you take classes in art history, world and ancient history, classics, math, literature, logic and philosophy, and other social sciences. You may want to become an architect or an engineer or a physician or a farmer, but too many people have never learned how to think critically, how to evaluate evidence, how to discover reliable knowledge and information, and how to avoid living their lives from a fountain of fantasy and ideology. But, remember this: You have a lifetime to learn, and you can make up deficits in your knowledge by launching forth at an early age on a lifetime quest for expanding your horizons, opening new windows and doors, learning to think and reason objectively, and have something inspiring to accomplish besides watching TV.