The first imperative in a class is to satisfy the professor. If it be a liberal arts class, you must get a feel for the professor’s inclinations, his preferred lines of argument, his conclusions.
Then, here is the tricky part: you must reflect the professor, but not mirror the professor.
They should not be able to see themselves in you, but they should feel a vague affinity for whatever it is you’re ejaculating in class, or spouting in your oral defense, or scribbling down in your papers and tests. If you know that the professor favors this conclusion, for example, then subvert it just a little bit. Enough to elicit approval, but short of raising eyebrows. This is called “critical thinking”.
When there is a reading list, listen carefully, for the professor will prefer some readings over others, emphasize some parts over others, and you can get an inkling for what is necessary and what is not. Then you can save yourself hours, and if you are the reading type, you can read what you like instead. Nothing ruins a reading more than its being required.
Then, six months after the class has ended and you have received your satisfactory grade, you can begin to really think about the class.
Only then will it be safe to form your own conjectures from the swirls of your independent thought. Only then can you go back to those readings which seemed the most interesting and immerse yourself in them without the specter of recitation day or objective quiz day. Only then can you expose yourself to the thousandfold paths obscured by the ink of your syllabus. Only then can you summon the ghost of your professor or your disagreeable classmate and duel with them. If you can be patient, there will come a time when Plato or Foucault, when Shakespeare or Rizal no longer matter.
When they do not matter anymore, that is when you can return your attention to them and embrace them from the depths of your repression.
You do not owe it to yourself while still in a class to think properly. The return on your investment, in the form of tuition, whether paid by you or by grant, is not expected to be in the form of a robust mind. This we know and constantly deny to ourselves, if we are not repeatedly editorializing about the tragedy of how our classes are failing to instill in us a love of intellectual curiosity. If you are frustrated by your inability to express yourself in a class of seventy, then are you not already intellectually curious? And if you are content merely to employ the strategies above to receive your B or above and move on, is the problem not deeper?
It is our schooling which enables much of our education, even if it does not facilitate it. It is that idiot, highly opinionated, and insufferable guru forcing you to march to the beat of his or her drum who lays the foundations for your later counterpoint. And even the most skilled and talented professors, the ones most able to come at their material from every side, the ones most sensitive to the different contexts of their students, the ones most willing to listen and to debate and to give voice to the voiceless, are limited by the sheer number of students, and class time, and their research, and any number of things affecting their personal lives. If you do not expect your professor to think for you, you must not expect your professor to facilitate your thinking for you either. Be grateful if this happens, but make more demands upon your own will and desire than your professor’s.
The solution to the anguish of “schooling getting in the way of education” is to accomplish schooling first, then to take it upon yourself to proceed with your education. Savor the moments when you have the truly legendary professors who allow you to violate the preceding sentence, for they are few and fleeting.