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A friend and fellow UCSD student posted her conundrum to the world via Facebook last weekend, asking the world which they would chose if they had the chance to meet Conan O’Brien or tickets to the Coachella music festival. Of the comments made on the status, the majority of them said Coachella, which was ultimately the decision this friend made. It struck me that this type of community-poll decision has become the modern equivalent of flipping a coin when it comes to decision making, having little to do with being a lemming or wanting peer approval. It is an act of desperation.

In life we are often presented with choices. Making those choices is a complex balance of rationality and sentiment. There is what we should do, what we want to do, and what will benefit us the most. We make them every day. Some choose to be students, to go to class or skip, to take out loans, to work two jobs, to major, to minor, to grab coffee or beer. Clearly students are intimately familiar with making decisions but the majority of students don’t really know how.

As students we tend to put the “what we should do’s” first, in hopes that eventually when the last essay is written and we are shaking the dean’s hand that we will finally have time for the “what we want.” Once in a while as students we are presented by our high-priced educational institutions with an opportunity to combine the two. When a renowned guest speaker agrees to hold a free Q&A session at your University, the excitement amongst your peers is palpable. In this case what we “should do” and “want to do” is run down and get out tickets to jump aboard the “Coco” loco.

However, what happens when the highly anticipated Conan O’Brien appearance coincides with one of the largest music festivals of the year, Coachella? Suddenly the buzz about who’s playing what stage on what day is all around, drowning out the awestruck applause for our beloved “Coco.”  There is a choice to be made, Conan O’Brien or three days at one of the largest modern music festivals.

Some perspective: your best friends are each begging you to go with them, one a huge O’Brien fan, the other desperately devoted to the band you two bonded over at orientation your first year. You could definitely use the mid-quarter escape, and there are no midterms that week to study for, which is a first in more quarters than you can remember. Timing could not be more perfect! What do you do? With two amazing opportunities presented to you, how do you choose?

Students pride themselves on their multitasking  abilities, their procrastination skills, and their powers of persuasive tears but when it comes down to it how do we deal with the decisions we face every day? We are conditioned to rationally weigh our options with the same intellectual rigor we have learned through-out our educational career. We carefully examine the evidence, consider the testimonies of our peers, and rationalize each course of action, all in a frantic attempt to formulate the answer.

Coachella is annual and how many chances in our life are we going to have to meet Conan O’Brien? The cost of tickets is comparable to two weeks’ worth of groceries. But there is that band playing that song you can’t get out of your head this week. You know that either way you will be missing out.

Emotionally we are knee deep in turmoil looking for excuses to make our decisions for us. “I should study anyway, get ahead.” “I shouldn’t spend the money.” “Shoot, it’s too late to ask for the week off from work I definitely shouldn’t go to Coachella.” “This could be my chance to network with Conan O’Brien!” “I only like that one band, and their playing on the third day anyway.” Whatever the rational, sometimes our logical minds don’t match up with our hearts.

No matter how hard we try, this is not another multiple choice exam with a surgically accurate distinction between the right and wrong answer. No matter which way we analyses it there is no universal answer. There is choice, something that we as individuals are unprepared for.

Trained to think, observe, and analyze, when it comes down to making a decision we are often inept. We second guess and rationalize ourselves in circles all because through the education system we have only ever been taught to think. This is not to imply that a rational approach is not effective in decision making, simply to convey a greater crisis at hand in the educational system. Some may argue that we don’t think enough about the consequences of our actions, or the long term effects. Perhaps it is not that we do not think, it is that we think too much, with less opportunity to refine more real world skills.

In many public universities students never learn how to “do.” Many students in the University of California system complain about a lack of emphasis on application in their major programs, noting the primary focus in the majority of courses is theory based with little time for practical application of those theories; at the very least little practical application in the field. Nine out of ten University of California San Diego undergrads, in non-scientific fields, claim that they feel they have had little to no opportunity to apply what they have learned in an everyday manner. There is a growing majority who feel nervous or lost upon graduating with their BA because they “don’t know what to do next.” We are unprepared.

What then are we learning? If not to make decisions, not how to “do”, what do these educational systems have to offer?

Theoretical classes are easy to teach and easy to fill especially when made Major requirements or prerequisites  for an “Advanced Topic” which if we are lucky will delve deep enough into a topic to become even remotely practical and applicable outside of a collegiate setting. From personal experience, and that of my peers, there are only a handful of “hands-on” classes offered in the Communications program, most of them in media areas of study. This is great for those students with an interest in media, but for those who have other interest their classes are far more theoretical and perception based, as is the Communications program as a whole.

Blame it on tenure. Blame the professors. Blame the state. Blame the government. Blame the 1%. Blame who ever, but the fact remains that with highly impacted schools, over-crowding, and a major lack of funding the California Education system is failing its students on even basic levels.Our education is leaving us unprepared to enter the highly competitive workforce with large debts to pay and limited training.
This post was inspired and influenced by:
Education Prices
http://opinion.latimes.com/opinionla/2009/11/is-a-26000-university-of-california-education-a-deal.html

Decision Making
http://http-server.carleton.ca/~aramirez/4406/BookReviews/Scott.pdf

“Active learning”
http://www.texascollaborative.org/activelearning.htm

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