Oldie: Dave Barry on College.

I Find Karma (adam@cs.caltech.edu)
Thu, 10 Apr 97 18:24:45 PDT

"College" by DAVE BARRY

Many of you young persons out there are seriously thinking about going
to college. (That is, of course, a lie. The only things you young
persons think seriously about are loud music and sex. Trust me: these
are closely related to college.)

College is basically a bunch of rooms where you sit for roughly two
thousand hours and try to memorize things. The two thousand hours are
spread out over four years; you spend the rest of the time sleeping and
trying to get dates.

Basically, you learn two kinds of things in college:

* Things you will need to know in later life (two hours). These include
how to make collect telephone calls and get beer and crepe-paper stains
out of your pajamas.

* Things you will not need to know in later life (1,998 hours). These
are the things you learn in classes whose names end in -ology, -osophy,
-istry, -ics, and so on. The idea is, you memorize these things, then
write them down in little exam books, then forget them. If you fail to
forget them, you become a professor and have to stay in college for the
rest of your life.

It's very difficult to forget everything. For example, when I was in
college, I had to memorize -- don't ask me why -- the names of three
metaphysical poets other than John Donne. I have managed to forget one
of them, but I still remember that the other two were named Vaughan and
Crashaw. Sometimes, when I'm trying to remember something important
like whether my wife told me to get tuna packed in oil or tuna packed in
water, Vaughan and Crashaw just pop up in my mind, right there in the
supermarket. It's a terrible waste of brain cells.

After you've been in college for a year or so, you're supposed to choose
a major, which is the subject you intend to memorize and forget the most
things about. Here is a very important piece of advice: Be sure to
choose a major that does not involve Known Facts and Right Answers.

This means you must *not* major in mathematics, physics, biology, or
chemistry, because these subjects involve actual facts. If, for
example, you major in mathematics, you're going to wander into class one
day and the professor will say: "Define the cosine integer of the
quadrant of a rhomboid binary axis, and extrapolate your result to five
significant vertices." If you don't come up with *exactly* the answer
the professor has in mind, you fail. The same is true of chemistry: if
you write in your exam book that carbon and hydrogen combine to form
oak, your professor will flunk you. He wants you to come up with the
same answer he and all the other chemists have agreed on. Scientists
are extremely snotty about this.

So you should major in subjects like English, philosophy, psychology,
and sociology -- subjects in which nobody really understands what
anybody else is talking about, and which involve virtually no actual
facts. I attended classes in all these subjects, so I'll give you a
quick overview of each:

ENGLISH: This involves writing papers about long books you have read
little snippets of just before class. Here is a tip on how to get good
grades on your English papers: Never say anything about a book that
anybody with any common sense would say. For example, suppose you are
studying Moby-Dick. Anybody with any common sense would say that
Moby-Dick is a big white whale, since the characters in the book refer
to it as a big white whale roughly eleven thousand times. So in *your*
paper, *you* say Moby-Dick is actually the Republic of Ireland. Your
professor, who is sick to death of reading papers and never liked
Moby-Dick anyway, will think you are enormously creative. If you can
regularly come up with lunatic interpretations of simple stories, you
should major in English.

PHILOSOPHY: Basically, this involves sitting in a room and deciding
there is no such thing as reality and then going to lunch. You should
major in philosophy if you plan to take a lot of drugs.

PSYCHOLOGY: This involves talking about rats and dreams. Psychologists
are *obsessed* with rats and dreams. I once spent an entire semester
training a rat to punch little buttons in a certain sequence, then
training my roommate to do the same thing. The rat learned much faster.
My roommate is now a doctor.

If you like rats or dreams, and above all if you dream about rats, you
should major in psychology.

SOCIOLOGY: For sheer lack of intelligibility, sociology is by far and
away the number one subject. I sat through hundreds of hours of
sociology courses, and read gobs of sociology writing, and I never once
heard or read a coherent statement. This is because sociologists want
to be considered scientists, so they spend most of their time
translating simple, obvious observations into scientific- sounding code.
If you plan to major in sociology, you'll have to learn to do the same
thing. For example, suppose you have observed that children cry when
they fall down. You should write:

"Methodological observation of the sociometrical behavior tendencies of
prematurated isolates indicates that a casual relationship exists
between groundward tropism and lachrimatory, or 'crying,' behavior
forms." If you can keep this up for fifty or sixty pages, you will get a
large government grant.


And what are cat diapers called? PamPurrs?