useful knowledge and respect

Last week, in the second lecture of my AI class, there were a host of undergrad students jabbering annoyingly during the lecture.  I almost pulled out my scolding matron voice, but decided against it.  Upon being dismissed (or rather, upon dismissing themselves since most of the students can't sit still a minute after the official end time, even when the professor still has things to say), these students continued to gab disrespectfully.  We were covering breadth-first and other uninformed/na├»ve searches, and the students were complaining along the lines of "If we're never going to use it, why is he teaching us about it?"  Second lecture material guys, seriously?  Also, if you're putting merit on stuff you're going to use, go get an apprenticeship somewhere or take a cooking class.  In my experience, undergraduate education is more about developing the mind in general than about acquiring stores of practical knowledge.  I know that in some ways I'm being just as arrogant and pretentious as they were, but... I don't know.  I guess I think there's some honor in defending the respect of a professor, especially an excellent one.  But perhaps I've been reading A Game of Thrones too much recently and am overly caught up in the concept of honor.


amber_mtmc said...

I remember giving a presentation on an important, ground-breaking study done in the late 90's on how premature kids do--academically, physically, emotionally--and wondering why in the world we were presenting on it in the first place. I mean, clearly, we were all advanced students in our major and did not need to know this stuff.

But, now that I'm older and wiser and graduated, I know exactly why we were assigned that paper. Silly that I complained and moaned so much during the preparatory process; however, I can now recognize the utility of why we need to learn these "unapplicable" things, even if I didn't then.

Really, I am agreeing with you and sort of wished I had had your mindset when I was in undergrad. (Thankfully, I was never rude in class. I think.)

ajbc said...

When I was in undergrad, I did get twitchy when time was up, but I too like to think I was never *that* rude. I think the time spent doing full-time work helped me learn to sit still...for the most part. Going back to some of that dynamic as a grad student is quite the trip.

Lucas Sanders said...

They'll never use knowledge of naive search strategies? I'd bet heavily that at least one of those kids will get asked a question that requires this material in one of their future job interviews, and for much the same reason why your professor is teaching the material now.

ajbc said...

Given that there are near 128 students in the class, that's a pretty good bet. :) Or were you referring to the griping kids? ...cause it's still a good bet.

The simple toy problems can be the hardest (at least for me) because they're partially looking just to see how you think, but they're also trying to see if you can find the one or two catches, and I never know how much to assume or abstract away.

Lucas Sanders said...

In my head, "they" meant the griping kids.

In my last job search, I usually found myself saying something like "if you don't care about performance, you could [use this naive approach]" for an initial answer to any toy engineering question, and then the interviewer usually asked useful follow-up questions that showed what aspects of the problem they were actually interested in. It seemed to work out okay for me.