Skydiving

I must admit I was having serious cold feet when we pulled up to the place. It was in the middle of the hot desert; an old beat-up hangar and a strip of asphalt fit only for ultralights and flying tin cans. Painted desert brown the outside of the building looked like it hadn't been touched in years. I've come to think that might be exactly right.

After finding a bathroom to let off the nerves I built up over the 60 minute drive I returned to find a man talking with the rest of our crew. One of the planes had a transponder problem and it had been being fixed that morning, so the crew and plane had to make a 15 minute flight from across the city. So we waited.

I think at this point it's important that I mention how stinking hot it is in the desert in August. I'd also like to point out that swamp coolers do not work well when the humidity is even slightly high. Today it was a little more than slightly high. So we waited - and cooked while we did.

As we waited the manager invited us to sign over our lives to him and his crew, which we did (to his surprise) after reading all that we were signing over. I've signed my life over before, but wow was this a great waiver. Basically I signed on the line indicating that I knew that I was likely to die and agreed that I really did want to die and that no one else was making me die. What a great sport.

When the crew showed up we went through the procedures. This consisted of practicing our position in the plane, our position in the air, and our position when landing. After a very short time (much shorter than I anticipated) our jump-master, Dwight, said, "Alright, who's up?" Reacting to peer pressure and ego, I raised my hand and suited up. A typically uncomfortable harness was fitted to me, I was handed goggles, and we headed for our tin can.

I was pretty sure the old Skylane wouldn't even make it off the ground, but God works miracles every day and we made it up to jump altitude after 20 minutes of diligent praying and looking through the hole in door.

Once at jump height I got into position and my harness was made significantly more uncomfortable (thankfully). The instructor clipped me to him, opened the door and told me to get into position. I reached my right foot out and placed it onto the wheel spar, slid my left knee over toward the door and leaned out onto my right knee. Jump-master Dwight began to count.

1...

2...

3...

I jumped out of a plane 2 miles above the surface of the earth.

Free-falling is nothing like I thought it would be. I was thinking it would be 45 seconds of missing stomach. Instead, it's 45 seconds of unparalleled escapism. It's just you and the clouds for 45 seconds. Then he pulled the cord.

I severely underestimated the glide step of skydiving. I thought all the fun was free-fall. I was wrong. Gliding with the birds was incredible. No engine, no steering wheel, no glass. Just me and the birds and the clouds and the sound of a small breeze as we slipped smoothly through the clear blue sky.

After five or so minutes my nature trip ended and I stepped back onto the ground, reuniting myself with the crew.

This is an experience I will never forget and hope to be able to relive someday.

I saw a great shirt today. It said "If being in a plane is flying, then being in a boat is swimming. Get out of the plane."

Academic Freedom

"That's Academic Freedom."

When I was in elementary school, junior high, and high school I was under a false assumption. I believed that I was in school to learn. I believed that in school I was to learn about math, English, history, public speaking, and the like. I believed that by learning these things, I would be a better person; that I would be a learned person. I also believed that my teachers were there to teach me. I was under the impression that I my teachers, being wiser and more learned that I, would impart to me their great wisdom and I would be better because of it. Now, obviously this is an idealistic exaggeration of what I really thought. I had bad teachers. I was in classes where just getting through the class without muttering, "I hate this," to myself was a good day. But whatever my belief of what school was supposed to be about was, it was shattered this week when I learned about a new concept - Academic Freedom.

"Academic Freedom." Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Maybe it conjures up images of education being available to all. Or perhaps you see yourself being able to choose whatever classes you want. Or maybe you know what "Academic Freedom" really is, and you don't have such bogus ideas racing through your head. I was certainly disillusioned this week when I finally learned the definition to this term.

Academic Freedom refers not to a student's freedom, but rather the instructor's. This freedom gives the instructor the freedom to teach with whatever methods they choose, to structure the class the way they choose, etc. I also found out this week that it allows instructors to screw their students over however they choose.

This last semester I was enrolled in 3 classes. In one of my classes we received a packet that contained seven sheets of paper with 22 questions on each page, with the difficulty of the questions increasing in magnitude as they moved down the page. Each page covered one chapter out of the book. These questions were used to review for the chapter tests. If one understood the material on the sheet, he/she would likely do fine on the test.

All of this was fine until we took our final oral exam. In this exam we were asked questions orally, and we answered the questions orally. This was fine. I did not even fear the exam until I discovered how the material to be tested was to be chosen.

As each student approached the table in front of the instructor, he or she would choose a note card from a stack of 44 that were laid face down on the table. On this note card was a number from 1 to 20 (I believe. I did not see any other numbers, however I have no reason to doubt that they ranged from 1 to 20). This number on the note card was used to determine which questions the student was asked. And where did these questions come from? You guessed it, our seven-page packet. Each number corresponded to a question on the sheets. If a student chose the number 6 (through the random selection of a card), he or she would receive question 6 from chapters 1 through 7, as well as questions 8, 9, and 10 from chapter 7, to total 10 questions.

Thus each student was unfairly given a final whose difficulty varied greatly from other students. The students who received 1 scored better than those who chose 19 (such as myself) scored rather poorly (to say the least). Note: In my efforts to prove my point to the administration, they would not grant me my request of knowing how others scored, even anonymously.

Being rather disturbed by these events I went through the channels presenting my story, informing the suits of the college that I was treated unfairly. My instructor predictably defended himself and his actions. Then I went to a dean. After overcoming the initial intimidation that I felt in the presence of the dean, I shared with him my story. He tended to agree with me - he seemed to agree that I had a point. But then I heard words that previously I had not known.

"I can't really do anything. I can see your point, but he has academic freedom. As long as the material you are tested on was taught during the course, you can be tested however the instructor chooses." He went on to say, "Even material that you are not taught, but are told to know. For instance, if your history teacher said, 'you have to know the last three chapters' but did not go over them in the book. Those would still be fair game. The instructor can test his/her students however he/she chooses."

At this point the blood drained from body. Then I soaked it back up by means of diffusion just in time for it to boil as my body temperature rose to well over 300 degrees.

I was (and still am) appalled! An instructor can screw over his or her students, causing them to have to retake a class (which is what I have to do because I can't afford that C on my transcript for scholarship reasons) all because he/she has academic freedom! So here I am out $120 for the class and another $50 or so for the books. Not only this, but all future employers will have the ability to see that I received a C in this course.

These are all annoyances, but nothing bothers me more than the fact that inept teachers can waste a student's entire semester and hide safely under the blanket of "Academic Freedom."

I used to believe that academia was about learning, about students being taught. I was wrong. Academia is about making your salary while doing the least amount of work possible. Academia is not about students; it is about money, fame, and power.

As disheartening as this experience was, I would like to extend my utmost gratitude to all teachers who teach because they believe that students attend class to learn. Thank you all for teaching. Without you I would have no hope whatsoever. To all of you please keep teaching. Keep preparing those lessons and trying to cram that wisdom of yours into our heads. We may complain about our exams, but deep down, we really do want to learn.

Note: I retook the class from another instructor the following semester and received and 'A.'