pictures. words (sometimes). blog nonsense.

a rant about classrooms

So, last night one of my graduate classes met for the first time for well over three hours in a basement room of a hideous building. The ceiling was ripped out, so the narrow room had this increasingly claustrophobic affect, with all of the exposed air ducts, hanging wires, and flickering fluorescent lights. In a word, it was hellish. If I hadn’t already been on campus for ten hours, I probably would have appreciated the Brazilian aspects of it more.

But I’ve been thinking. What the heck is up with college classrooms? Maybe I’m just a victim of big institutions, but they overwhelming, vast majority of classrooms I’ve ever been in are frickin’ butt ugly. Especially for those of us that they keep patting on the head and telling us we’re here to “become better artists” (note: aka, no job prep), I think we deserve better. I’m not demanding the Louvre, but surely some aesthetic appreciation is warranted. Is it that impossibly hard to have even a starbucks-like workspace, rather than a Folsom Prison atmosphere? I’d buy coffee for every class if they gave me a nice chair and some color to look at (let alone a window).

And I don’t drink coffee.

Is everyone else just numb to the horrors of their learning environment after years of mind-numbing lines of concrete, drop ceilings, and flickering lights? If so, chalk one up for homeschooling. My “school room” had art on the walls and windows to look out.

Or is it an inherent flaw only in “higher” education, due to the clamor for multi-use workspace? If so, I think it’s a flawed model, at least for the humanities. Why can’t we have dedicated workspace? Why can’t my classroom look like the offices of my professors? Bookshelves at least would be an improvement over the rat-like subterranean warren of cells and halls where I’ve spent the better part of four (going on five) years.

And for those of you that went to mundo-expensive, small, liberal arts colleges and lounged around in oak chairs while staring out leaded-glass windows, fingering the pipe in your pocket…I don’t want to hear from you.

After all, suffering is supposed to produce better artists, so my book is going to be better than yours.

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6 responses

  1. Just googled “aesthetics of classrooms”. People have written about this phenomena for decades. What’s been done about it? No wonder test scores across the educational spectrum keep slipping! No wonder kids are diagnosed with ADD! No wonder the polar ice caps are melting!

    September 3, 2009 at 9:16 am

  2. TRISH

    I love it when you write. I do think what you’ve experienced is a function of larger universities. Though, the art school where Jesse took classes was beyond ugly and sadistically ironic in some of its rooms. I’m glad that homeschooling served some purpose. Vive inspiring aesthetics!

    September 3, 2009 at 9:34 am

  3. As someone who’d actually designed the lighting for a good many classrooms, I must protest somewhat. I do think that there are plenty of horrible classroom spaces, but there are some very nice ones (even at big ol’ Penn State, particularly the ones I designed…)

    As for why classroom don’t look like Starbucks, I’d say it’s a pretty simple answer – money. The average Starbucks customers pays $5 or so to stay there for maybe a half-hour (sure there are the English and Art majors who can hang out all day ;-), but I digress), so they have all these people paying for their fancy-smancy lights. At a university with aging buildings, lighting is sadly at the bottom of the list of things they want to spend money on.

    I also will add that the humanities seem to get the hand-me-downs from other departments when it comes to buildings. Maybe that’s why you missed out on some of the nicer spaces.

    September 3, 2009 at 11:27 am

  4. Must be. There were a few technology related classrooms I was in that were pretty swell, but in a cold, blue sort of way. That said, the technology tutoring center at PSU was pretty darn nice…and had rotating art exhibits. I wonder if you weighed in on the lighting of that one at all…it was actually awesome.

    But! That was really the only room in all of PSU that I really liked, besides the library. But you can’t really talk in there, can you? Maybe THAT’S what needs to change…Lord knows no one else is using the library anymore, so why not have a class or two there?

    And yes, I agreed even in my original post that money is probably the root cause of my aesthetic discontent, as always….but heck, they just need to get a little more creative.

    In defense of PSU–so far, GMU is 10x worse (in terms of classrooms).

    September 3, 2009 at 3:31 pm

  5. almost all of the classrooms I’ve been in for school were hideous. this included two Salt Lake Community College campus’ and the University of Utah. the ONLY classrooms that have been pleasant are two in the Language and Communication building at the U, and one is a huge multi-media presentation room, with theatre style seating, and the other is a 20-person computer lab. Both fairly new. But every other classroom totally sucked. Especially the ones where they use hand-me down junior high desks, crammed into a small, dirty and ugly space, for seniors at the U. What the heck? Make us feel like we’re going back in time, rather than almost graduated? Lame.

    September 12, 2009 at 9:48 am

  6. yeah, i’d rather meet in the cafeteria or something.

    September 12, 2009 at 2:29 pm

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