I finished my undergraduate studies last year. Currently, I am doing my graduate studies. And, I try my best not to attend my classes!
It confounds most of my friends (and much to the chagrin of some professors I am close with) as to why I would do that. I myself did not know; it has just been a gut feeling. And to the bastions of punctuality and strict attendance policies, it suffices to say that I may have most genuinely loathed your classes. As for the closures, I would show up to quizzes and exams to be tested for how much I had learned; cumulatively, my college transcript tells me that I did fine.
Until now, I never gave it a serious thought. After all, college is almost a full-time four year contract (often, extremely overpriced) and who would be so stupid as to skip classes? If I introspect, I’m neither lazy (at least, when it comes to seeking knowledge or improving myself), nor am I a delusional and helpless moron who is enrolled in college to waste his precious life. However, now that I think about it, I think there could be actual merits to skipping classes.
I think there is just one major goal of university classes- learning, albeit, a broad definition is needed. A student is supposed to attend the classes, participate, and there would be barometers placed to track how well a student is doing in the presumable job of ‘learning’. These barometers come in traditional forms like mid-terms, finals, copycat assignments running down through generations, or cross-breeds like team-projects, consequential weekly quizzes, etc. Here’s the kicker dear all, whether inadvertently or not, but almost all of these barometers are inherently flawed. They are flawed in that they are hackable. And anything that is hackable has the side effect of teaching the hacker sly techniques that can be used to pwn the system again and again. Unless if it is a class about pwning classes, classes should be immune to hacking attempts. Since the classes would not upgrade their barometers or shun them even an inch, skipping classes, I realized, helped me a lot in learning properly in an inherently corruptible system.
At a meta-level, skipping classes lets you evade the “anti-learning” nuances that classes end up breeding. By skipping classes that you loathe, you might end up losing bits and pieces of information, but in the end, you end up gaining more (i.e. you won't have to unlearn potentially dangerous things, and secondly, you actually end up learning more than the average of all the students who religiously attended the class).
You don’t have the unfair advantage of ‘hacking’ classes and therefore you actually end up ‘learning’ more
It was not until the senior year of my college (2019) that I discovered Chegg, a kind of Spotify for solutions to homework problems. I only saw it within the context of a lot of students using it to ‘cheat’ (themselves) in order to get better markings on the silly barometers. I doubt I would have had enough moral strength to not succumb to it if I had found it during the early ears of my college life. Since the grading metrics can easily be hacked with a double-digit dollar subscription, students often ended up discussing sharing the burden of hacking the metrics than working on their learning outcomes of their class. Then there would be instructors who would give you some insider information as to what is going to help you ace the class (again, in terms of grades). To me, it seems it is way of them awarding their students for the audience they give them.
In any case, skipping classes takes away all those sly and ugly techniques from you; you are effectively putting yourself at a disadvantage in favor of getting sharper and better and learning more. If you want to get the best of both the worlds, then you can find other students from the class a few hours before going through the barometers and ask them for tips. The effectiveness of this technique is directly proportional to the ‘hackability’ of the class.
You can save your originality in thinking
Let’s design a course to teach single variable calculus. I would first explain in an approachable way what calculi means and how there are so many calculi out there. I’d then turn to my class (mostly freshmen and sophomores) and tell them that the calculi are ‘man-made’ or ‘forged’ i.e. if you spend some time may be you can come up with yours, or develop one further. That the familiar geometry, and algebra and for the philosophy majors, that logical reasoning, can all be formalized into specific calculi. And how simple calculus is, and right when it’s all so simple, I’d mention how complex it gets. How it peeps into the domains of the infinite and the infinitesimal. That Sir Isaac Newton did it this way, but you can do it that way as well. That why it works. That why you should do the ugly formalism. That how you can and cannot divide by zero. That now you can pass the exams (traditionally, at least a C is excpected) if you understand it well by may be solving problems on maximizing a rectangles area given the constraint on its perimeter, and that now you can go on about your life with hopefully more newer synaptic connections in your brain. If you attended this class and you still couldn’t solve the problem, then shame on me, the instructor, and not the student.
You’d be very lucky if the courses in your university were designed that way. Most often than not, they are designed by really boring people who are surprisingly good at writing superb introductions for their classes in the Registrar’s Office’s list of courses. If you skip these boring classes, you’d be forced to learn things in a more holistic sense- since you would have to design a course for yourself. On top of all that, you would also have to pass the class, and to save your ego, you would have learned what the boring instructor was going to teach you anyways, except in a more interesting way. During these efforts, you would also realize that you’re not trapped in some specific stream of thought. Most instructors are so burdened by their experiences that they won’t even know how the world looks (or ought to look) like from the outside.
Save yourself some originality at this young age and skip those dull classes. You can always lose your originality when you’re old.
Passion and anti-passion
Often times you will end up finding yourself truly aligned towards the goal of your class i.e. you would be actually learning more and more by attending your classes. If I had not attended lectures on Islamic Law, I’d have never found myself interested in understanding and exploring religion, science, logic (and hence formalism in Mathematics), etc., and would have never met the giants like Edward Said or Avicenna, for instance. But the opposite is also true- because a class could be so pathetic and if it happens that you’re someone who can’t skip these classes, most likely you’ll end up developing an anti-passion towards the topics in the class. That is, you would end up hating a lot of topics worth learning with passion; hence, effectively becoming a bigot to ideas you’ve not even explored. The wise would agree that developing an anti-passion towards things like algorithms, linear algebra, history, etc. at this age would come at the cost of happiness and enlightenment at a later stage in your life. Save yourself- skip these classes, or just try to doze off if attendance is mandatory.
You improve your odds of finding good classes
Let us come up with a null hypothesis- that there is no positive effect of attending classes on your learning. Of course this cannot be true. There are classes where you would learn so much if you attended the classes everyday. And the a priori of a class being one such would also depend on who you are. Usually, if it is a class on a completely new topic (to you), more often than not you’d end up benefiting by attending the class- you might discover how the modern field of sociology is structured, for instance, or your geeky brain might get some food for thought or people of interest in a finance class, or just get another perspective, yada yada.
But given that life is short, and you get to live only once, you would be better off assuming that the null hypothesis is valid- that most classes are not worth attending. And since you don’t want to be enrolled in college and not go to classes, you’d end up picking up a lot of classes which you’d actually enjoy attending.
With regards to the main topic of this essay, I have come to the conclusion that colleges served at least one great purpose in my personal life- to come up with better measures of my own success.