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Why I appreciate Evergreen State College

Friday, October 23, 2009

I don’t like talking about the fact that I’ve returned to school.  It’s partly embarrassment that I never finished my degree in the first place.  I don’t like revisiting the memory of why I left WSU and I won’t here either.  But needless to say, last year I found myself at a crossroads of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  I don’t want to be an office drone.  I don’t want to be unhappy at a job whose sole purpose is to pay the bills but unfortunately my options are limited.  Those limitations are of my own making and I take full responsibility for them but it’s still depressing.

At any rate, I’ve returned to college and am actively taking classes in the evenings and weekends.  Evergreen has a really odd reputation.  Within the state of Washington, most people have a very unfavorable view of it, within the city of Olympia (where the college is housed), locals tend to hate the college and there are always numerous calls to have it shut down somehow.  I mean, it would never happen.  Local businesses would feel the financial hit of not having umpteen college students around to buy their wares but I suppose it makes them feel better to voice their frustrations.  The reason for all the hate is the very small, subsection of students that tend to be very socially radical.  They’ve sat in front of Army tanks that were being sent to the Middle East, they’ve organized numerous marches in downtown Olympia and from their number, an even smaller fraction, like to cause mayhem by throwing rocks into bank windows and trying to start mini riots.

I suspect Evergreen really isn’t all that much different from other very, very liberal arts colleges and it’s nice having a local chapter of naive, young idealists  ready to take on “The Man”.  After awhile, seeing white rastas with dreadlocked hair (I’m still confused how they do that), watching student protest in Red Square by lockstepping with fake prop guns, the vegan cafeteria food, etc . it get’s to be pretty commonplace.

The biggest thing about Evergreen that usually has people scratching their heads, is the whole “no grades” policy.  Evergreen doesn’t give grades.  What happens is that at the end of the quarter or at the end of the year, if you’re taking a year long program is that you write a self evaluation and your professor will also write an evaluation of your work.

It’s harder than it sounds.

The biggest question is always, “Well then how do you know that your learning?”   That question has always confused me, is the receiving of a letter grade acknowledgement that you’ve learned something? The traditional model is that when someone looks over your transcripts and see’s your grades and GPA they come to a general idea of how smart you are in whatever vague area your degree happens to fall.  Now think for a minute how differently an employer or grad school admissions counselor would see you if they actually read in your own words and your professors what you learned.  Or conversely, what you didn’t learn and why you didn’t receive credit for a certain class.  You see, you can receive incredibly bad evaluations too and while I have not yet received one (and I hope to god I never do), I’ve read some from other’s transcripts and personality comes through in writing and some have been very scathing.  And it’s recorded for all time, in your transcripts.  You can explain away a bad grade, it’s harder to explain when it’s written in narrative form,  from your professor, detailing the myriad ways that you failed in their class.

The other great thing about Evergreen is their Individual Learning Contracts.  If you don’t see anything in the course offerings that speaks to you but have an idea of what you want to learn, create your own class! There’s a lot of paperwork to fill out and permissions you must obtain, including the Dean’s but how awesome is that?  You have to create your own syllabus and the amount of work must fall within certain parameters of how many credits your attempting.  I’ll write one at some point this academic calender and see how I fare, it’s something that I really want to experience before I graduate.

I appreciate the flexibility of class schedules, I love that the atmosphere around here is student centered, as opposed to administration centered.  I love how flexible my teachers can be with assignments and how they let me actively explore the material and the passion that they have all shown me for both teaching and learning.  I love how I’ve learned something valuable in ALL of my classes, even if I had reservations about taking it in the first place.  I like how accessible everyone is either in person, or phone or email.

But long story short, I’m loving Evergreen (hippies and  hipsters alike).  I wish that there were more nontraditional schools like this around the country.  I count myself lucky that I happen in live near one.


From → musings

One Comment
  1. I totally hear that. I hit that same sort of crossroads recently. I dropped out of college and have been working as an admin for the past few years. I don’t think going back to college is the right thing for me personally, so I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do.

    I applaud your efforts to get your life on a track you’ll love! It’s a tough process, but well worth the end result!

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