Last Semester of Trade School

The most perplexing thing about spending five or six days engrossed in one project is the way that everything else suffers. Having finished up the morning of the due date for my latest colossal Business Policy project (last Thursday), I grappled with an hour-and-a-half of sleep before running off to the last class of the week, only to find when it was over that it had only just begun, that there wasn't some grandiose relaxation time waiting for me, but stacks of neglected work and commitments: laundry, grocery shopping, personal obligations, reading/studying/rereading/comprehending, beard stubble, a week's worth of news and internet postings, organizational responsibilities, bills, dishes, an out-of-fitness body, and oh trying to recuperate from the flu. And completing a few blog posts I've been meaning to write.

But no one reading this needs to be reminded that life can be frenzied sometimes. And I did, after all, get to watch the Cowboys win the SuperBowl.

Someone I exchanged emails with recently told me that he had realized a couple of years ago that his formal education was no true education, and that he had thus begun educating himself. I find that the more time and effort I'm required to expend on school, the dumber I become. There's probably no way around this, given my major (finance) and my proximity to graduation (fifty-four days), among other factors. But it's unpleasant to periodically inhale the effluvium of one's shrinking mental capacity and political awareness.

It wasn't this way when I was, briefly, a philosophy major, or a Politics major. Is it me? My current government-subsidized university? Business in general? The people I'm spending most of my time with? Ahh.

I found a comment recently which I believe speaks for many of my classmates:

My grammar is not perfect, but that is okay since I will be in business anyway.

His grammar was certainly lacking, as was his spelling. But I would like to amend and expand on his claim on behalf of my fellow COBA students, as follows:

My critical-thinking skills are subpar, I have a lot of trouble considering ideas outside the narrow confines of what I'm usually asked to memorize, my attention span is more easily measured in seconds than in minutes, and I write at about an eighth-grade level, but all this is fine since my major is business anyway.

I don't want to bash these folks too hard or convert this, my first post, into an ugly display of belligerence. But I'm dealing with my "capstone" class this semester, the dreaded (and deservedly so) Business Policy. Forget the logistical nightmare of trying to coordinate meetings between eight people who all live in different cities and have disparate work schedules. One primary issue is that this here is collectivism. Or if you don't like what that connotes, collective thought and decision-making. It's group-think. Unified purposes, cooperative goal-seeking, the composite business mind. So how does it work?

It doesn't. Oh, I'm sure this helps prepare us for the real world of decision by incompetent committee. But for where we are now, it's a disaster. Unfortunately, the grades we receive in this course are "collective" as well.

I've also been dealing with a great deal of what I can only define as the entropy of the group. This refers to the fact that roughly two-thirds of the time we spend in group meetings is devoted to juvenile discussions on such topics as other classes, "the game," sex, neat-o websites, relationships, weekend plans, how unfair the professor is, how miserable the class is, how boring the firm we're "working for" is, how great it will be to graduate, and how poorly we're using our time, as well as activities such as chatting on celphones with SOs, walking across campus for ice cream, searching for more comfortable chairs, taking over-frequent smoke breaks, replying to off-topic emails, hooking up PC speakers so we can have music in the meeting room, and disappearing for questionably-lengthy excursions.

Since there's no chance of hurting anyone's feelings here, and by way of explanation for why I haven't posted until now, I would like to mention that I had to edit, fact-check, clarify, and generally fix virtually every sentence of our most recent ten page project turn-in. I'm appalled. I was working for two days, straight through, with little in the way of sleep.

In short, the group is toxically dysfunctional.

I'm eager to continue my true education, but right now I'm mired in the throes of obtaining this degree (the first of many, I'm assuming). I can feel myself slipping, as my vocabulary dwindles, my once-boundless creativity atrophies, and I slowly lose particles and fragments of what used to keep me generally satisfied with my slow-but-steady progress. Fortunately, there are a few things I do to shore myself -- currently, I listen to Charley and the Loud Family and read Infinite Jest and Catallarchy, for example. And I hope to be able to contribute to this fine blog from time to time.

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Good lord, you've just

Good lord, you've just described the past two years of my life. I learn absolutely nothing in my business classes, as they are 90% common sense, 10% bullshit. And the group projects - argh! Every single management class is another group project.

Last semester, in Operations, we divided the work among the group: I was in charge of data analysis, this other guy was in charge of the executive summary. I was supposed to simply intersperse a summary of the data analysis within the executive summary, but the writing level - not just the grammar and spelling, as they can be easily corrected - but the writing level itself was just too embarrassing. I was not willing to sign my name on a project with an executive summary written below a high-school level.

Correcting this piece of writing - if one can even call it that - proved more difficult than I expected. It is one thing to correct grammar and spelling, and perhaps use a thesaurus every now and then to spruce things up a bit. But when there is no structure and each paragraph is simply a repetition of the preceding one, it would have been easier to just scrap the whole thing and start from scratch.

But no. For some reason, I did not feel comfortable rewriting the entire piece. Instead I struggled for hours trying to reword and revise while still keeping some semblance of the original.

I finally finished and mailed it to the group member responsible for compiling all of the pieces of the final project, only to find out the next day that he forgot to include the revised executive summary and instead used the original.

This is why I hate group projects.

There are organizations

There are organizations which help (for example) abused children come to grips with their issues of mistrust. One of the symbolic activities they seem to frequently engage in goes like this: the child stands on a tree stump or stool or table, with his back to the others, and falls backward. The others catch him. This is supposed to enforce the idea that he CAN have faith in other human beings.

Well, that's what I was doing for this last section. I was trying to have faith in my team members, to fall backward and trust that they'd be good enough to catch me.

But alas, I hit the ground with a *THUD*.

I know well the difficulty you speak of in rewriting -- I felt I had to preserve at least some of what was handed over to me. That's part of the group project part of the assignment. And yet, I cannot accept a 'C' for one of these papers, so I'm driven to do what I have to do...

What I can't understand is this: this is my first group project, at least formally within my business degree (I'm a director in the investment group, but that's another story and a much higher level of competence), so it's something new for me. But the other seven folks have had many group projects along the way related to their majors -- marketing, HR, entrepreneurship, management, etc. Why does it appear as if this circumstance is reversed?

If I could delegate the rote calculative material to others, we'd be in better shape, but I'm the only one who knows accounting or finance. :/

And it could be argued that the street smart group member is the one who puts forth little to no effort after having identified a perfectionist (or at least someone who would like an 'A' in the class). Since our grades are inextricably tethered together, the hard work of one or two interested people benefits everyone in the group. Gee, I know there's an interesting political concept just waiting to crawl out of that. :o)

To be fair, four of the seven have at least shown up and meant well. But in a couple of weeks we have to do it all again, in a much shorter span of time.

Nice first post Kevin.

Nice first post Kevin. College is something you just gotta slug your way through to get the shiny certificate at the end even if what you 'learn' doesn't have much to do with real life. I don't use what I learned in my college major pretty much at all today, although the shiny certificate was useful.

In general, I don't like group projects, but when I was in college, I had pretty good experiences with them. Of course, we could choose our partners for the most part, so that made a huge difference. There were a core group of 6-7 people in my major who I worked with, and if the groups were limited in size to say 3 per group, we'd just formally split up into two groups even though informally we all worked together.

I actually learned a lot from these guys, probably more than from my professors. I think in most cases the worst way to learn is to listen to one person lecture for an hour, but in the group setting, it was more about teaching ourselves and each other through discussion, explanation, etc. I was lucky that we didn't have any 'free-riders' in the group, and that most people offered some degree of uniqueness and originality to the group dynamic. And I was especially lucky that these guys were also the people I liked to hang out with socially.

So, to summarize, I think that the best way to learn for me is on my own with reading books, internet, etc. But that is somewhat limited and that groups can offer something more as far as viewpoints, further discussion, explanations, challenges to your views, etc. This is one of the things I like best about blogs - they are a way for me to learn through the input of others. However, if the group dynamic isn't right, it all falls apart. The worst way for me to learn is from lecture, which even today, I have to go to for an hour every morning. I find it useless. I hear the guy babbling in front of me, but my mind shuts off.

BTW - I have never heard of a "Politics" major. I have heard of Political Science. But never just plain "Politics". It makes me feel dirty just to hear such a thing.

I know that I feel dumber

I know that I feel dumber now than as an undergrad. However, that could be a function of simply getting older, and the progressive and continuing realization of all the things you don't know and can't do...

Jonathan- Regarding the


Regarding the "Politics" program, this is the reason I linked to it, since I've never heard of it either, except via that school, UD. Yet the program really was pretty good in its focus, as you might gather from the description.

Your experiences with group projects are an example of the right way for them to be administered and practiced. And I agree that in that context, a purposeful, energetic, dynamic group can be a fantastic learning apparatus.

I think this is why they created the internet, right? So we could reach beyond those we have physical proximity to and greatly expand our circle of discussion partners?

I think this is why they

I think this is why they created the internet, right? So we could reach beyond those we have physical proximity to and greatly expand our circle of discussion partners?

I don't know - you'd have to ask Al Gore. ;)

But yeah, on the internet we can choose our group to fit our needs and shun the 'free riders' and occasional misfits.