Study Groups, to Join or not, and what Putnam might say

November 17, 2011

Political Theory

While going through college, and taking many difficult classes, I have been faced with the decision of joining a study group or not. I preferably like study groups, and think that they are very beneficial, and have always done better in classes that I have participated in study groups. My roommate on the other hand, has a completely different viewpoint, and thinks that study groups are stupid, and essentially are just “dumb” kids leeching information out of smarter kids. While I disagree with his viewpoint, I understand it, because I, like I’m sure all you have, experienced a study group where a member or members are in it to only benefit themselves. They see study groups as a way for them to obtain information without having to go to class or do the readings. Even with this problem, I still think that study groups are very beneficial, but I wanted to look at the issue from the view of a political science major. I think that the most apparent connection that this case can relate to is the writings Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam and Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville.

I believe that Robert Putnam supports my view on study groups, whereas a part of Tocqueville’s writing supports my roommate’s. In college all classes are very competitive, and fundamentally you are competing against your fellow classmates. So why would a smarter classmate want to be in a study group, and help out the less knowledgeable students. He would be evening out the playing field, and therefore making it harder to achieve a good grade. According to my roommate this is why he does not join study groups. This can be examined with Tocqueville’s theory on peoples love for equality. He states: “but one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom” (Tocqueville, Book 1, Chapter 3, Paragraph 28). One might ask how this applies to study groups, and the answer is that in every study group, there are always going to be more knowledgeable people and less knowledgeable people. This very problem can be applied to the “weak to bring down the strong” sentence. If there are less knowledgeable people in the group, then Tocqueville is saying that essentially they are taking knowledge from the more knowledgeable members of the group. They are not contributing any knowledge to the smarter members, but rather only receiving knowledge. This can be interpreted as the weak bringing down the strong. This is my roommate’s argument for not joining study groups, saying he does not want to be the strong being brought down by the weak.

While this may occasionally happen, I think that when you apply Putnam’s view of “Social Capital” to study groups, it helps enlighten one about the benefits of study groups, even to the more knowledgeable students. Putnam describes social capital as a resource not possessed by an individual, such as physical and human capital, but rather capital possessed by a social organization that results in mutual benefit (Putnam, Bowling Alone, Paragraph 7). This theory of social capital directly applies to the study groups example. One should view a study group as an abundance of social capital, rather than bringing less knowledgeable people up to your level. Instead of every member in the group reaching the knowledge level of the smartest member, the social capital of all knowledge in the group combined will go above and beyond the knowledge level of the smartest member, because every group member will have something to contribute. When viewing it this way, it is very beneficial for students to join a study group, regardless of knowledge level, because they will experience a benefit of social capital, which is only attainable through a social organization.

What do you think? Do you think that if you are better in a class than others, that you should avoid a study group? Do you think are helping students reach Tocqueville’s strive for equality, hence making it harder for you to achieve a good grade? Or do you think that Putnam’s social capital theory is correct in terms of a study group, and all the members will be benefitted, and reach a knowledge level higher than they could have individually?



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One Comment on “Study Groups, to Join or not, and what Putnam might say”

  1. Connor Baharozian Says:

    I disagree with your point that when a “smart” person joins a study group, they are leveling the playing field by passing along their knowledge to the less intelligent members of the group. I’ve been involved in 4 different study groups for 4 different classes and in each, though it is discouraged, the study group leader is teaching the students. The study group leader, not the “smart” person in the group, is passing along their knowledge. So, I believe that, even if the “smart” person doesn’t join the study group, the playing field is being leveled by the study group. By not joining the group, the “smart” person would miss the teachings of the study group leader. I doubt that the “smart” person knows all that the study group leader says, so while the study group levels the playing field in the class, the “smart” person who does not join, falls behind. Not only does the study group leader teach to group, but offers them resources such as practice tests. These practice tests and resources in no way involve the “smart” person passing along their knowledge to less intelligent students. Instead, if the “smart” person doesn’t join a study group, they miss out in obtaining these resources. Without these resources, the “smart” person cannot practice using their knowledge.

    I think that joining a study group is a wise idea. Though some of the study groups I have been in have been less effective than others at teaching students, you at least have increased exposure to the subject material. If you don’t learn anything in study group, you at least can obtain resources so as to practice applying your knowledge from the class.

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