This is a paper I wrote for Honors 100 during my first quarter. Looking over it now, I wish I had written it differently. I was slightly more arrogant back then, and my writing style was convoluted and overly sophisticated. Oh well…
Reflections on Why I Came to the UW and the Honors Program in Light of “Social Animal”
In my junior year, the UW was the last place I thought I would go. I was a conservative Christian intellectual at a tiny, conservative, Christian school called Providence, and I loved it. I wanted to continue that education by finding a college with a similar philosophy of education–a private, liberal arts college, preferably conservative and Christian. I had an ideal college in my mind and was on a quest to find its nearest manifestation in reality. After that, it was only a matter of solving the practical problems of food, money, housing, etc., which at that point I did not make it my job to worry about.
At first, I had only a few reasons to question this approach. The first was what my mother said after we visited New Saint Andrews, the epitome of the small Christian liberal arts school: she said that going to that school might perpetuate the weaknesses of Providence. Like Providence, it was a small school with less than ideal facilities, a limited number of faculty, and not enough math and science classes for my interests. Completing my education did not necessarily mean continuing in the same kind of place I had started. It might, in fact, mean going somewhere completely opposite, so that corresponding strengths and weakness of the schools could balance each other out. The second reason I heard from my Hebrew teacher: that brain science shows that at a bigger and more diverse university people literally increase in IQ. This sounded very alluring, and yet it was not enough in itself to change my plan.
I first seriously considered the UW when I applied for colleges in the fall of my senior year. Providence’s college advisor recommended that those applying to private schools also apply for a state college as a backup plan. Therefore, I applied to the UW, and, since it seemed to be up my alley, I applied for honors too. But the more I read more about honors, the more I became truly interested. Here was a chance to avoid some freshman classes I felt I did not need, without having to go to the inconvenience of taking AP tests (My school did not have AP classes). Here too was a chance to find something like a private school within a state school, with smaller classes that pursue the big questions in an interdisciplinary environment. Maybe, if I got into the honors program, I thought, I would go to the UW after all.
As all these ideas were percolating in my now undecided mind, I had the opportunity in January to write a paper on the pros and cons (from a Christian perspective) of state universities and private Christian colleges. It was a chance to make conscious, systematize, and cement the ideas that would later become the rationale for my college decision, whichever way I decided.
In writing that paper, I realized that where someone should go to college depends on who he is. And I was a person who could preserve my Christian faith and my philosophy of education in a state college that did not endorse it. I had so absorbed Providence’s vision of education that I could replicate it. Even there, I had learned to be my own teacher in areas where the school’s resources did not satisfy my intellectual potential; now, I thought, I could be my own headmaster as well, choosing the ingredients for my own ideal curriculum. The perfect college was in my head, and it could assimilate classes taught by anyone, even people I strongly disagreed with. Conflict, in fact, would make me stronger and smarter.
That is one, intellectual, reason I chose the UW. There were other reasons–more along the lines of what the article “Social Animal” calls “moral intuition”–reasons that blended family experience, philosophy, personal goals, and the practical questions I had deferred during my junior year, but which began to press down with increasing urgency as I neared college decision day. When I considered college life outside the classroom, I understood more clearly who I was, and I realized that I had to go to the UW because I wanted to live at home. All the other colleges I was considering were out of state, and living away from home entailed several things I could not bring myself to do.
First, I could not live without healthy food. My father, after recovering from ulcerative colitis by eating raw foods, had been telling me for years I needed the proper nutrition. I had been eating parts of his diet for a while, but had held off on the complete thing until college because of my mother’s doubts about it. Now I would finally be able to eat all of it, but if I left home, getting raw milk, eggs, vegetable juice, and organic meats would be much harder.
Second, I could not go into debt. Both my parents, especially my mother, impressed on me the stupidity of debt. For me, avoiding it was doubly important since I do not aspire to a high salary. I am too much of a thinker to enjoy being part of the “composure class.” There is a good chance I will become a teacher, and if I do, I cannot count on a high salary to pay off student loans. Only the UW gave me sufficient grant money to stay out of debt. Their grants covered all of my tuition costs; thus, my family would only have to worry about my food and lodging, which would work well if I lived at home. Besides, travel costs would be much lower.
Third, I could not leave my family. My history teacher had told me that because of our ability to travel far, we have lost a sense of local community. I certainly understood this, for my family had moved a lot. My parents, a Michiganian and an Ohio-born Illinoian, had moved to Washington from Iowa, then were divorced, and each moved several times locally after that. For me, the idea of “home” was incompletely realized. My mother told me she always regretted not having spent time with her grandfather, who lived several hours away; therefore, I thought how blessed primitive people are if only to live in the same place as their grandparents. Considering how many people end up living where they go to college, and how much my parents and brothers would miss me, I thought I should stay nearby.
Finally, I could not leave my church. If I ever found the perfect college, what are the chances the perfect church would be nearby? I cannot imagine a church whose preaching and worship better accord with my faith than the one I attend now. Nor can I imagine a better community, or better friends, than the people at that church.
Ironically, while ambition to increase my intellectual abilities first made me consider the UW, and confidence in my abilities justified that choice to my own mind, the reasons I finally came had little to do with academics, or even the college itself. My search for the perfect college had taken me far away only to return to my own mind, but my search for the perfect life took me home. Like the scientists of human nature, I learned that the most important things are not proved by reason alone, but learned through experience. While my appreciation for the intellect has not diminished, I realize there is more to life than intellect, and where you go to college is not nearly important as what you eat, how you spend, and whom you love.
Brooks, David. “Social Animal: How the Science of Human Nature Can Help Us Make Sense of Life.” The New Yorker. 17 Jan. 2011. Web. 10 Oct. 2011.