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On Friday just after noon, I was walking out of my building to meet friends for a "we are finished with the classes -- only finals left to go!" celebratory lunch, and found myself behind a couple of solid young men.  They bounded down the stairs ahead of me, one saying to the other "That is it!  I never have to go to another class in my life!"  On my ten minute meander to the Greek restaurant where my friends were waiting for me I had a discussion within my own head about why and how these boys developed their attitudes toward education and what I wish I could have said to them (not that I would have the opportunity and not that it was any of my business, unless everyone's attitudes toward education are my business, which is a point we can debate some other time).  At the most basic level my comment would have been "I hope you someday you don't think that never being in class is a particularly good thing."

Follow me below the orange Mobius fold for why I think being in class IS a particularly good thing.

We always tell our new faculty hires, particularly those who are relatively new out of graduate school, that our students are not like our faculty.  The vast majority of our students do not want to be college teachers (which is probably a good thing, in and of itself, as there are not enough jobs for those who already are impeccably qualified).  They may want to be artists, archaeologists, journalists, nurses, or athletic trainers.  They may want to do research, but many will indeed leave college and never take another class that will lead to a degree.  

But most professional jobs, even if there is no licensure involved, involve updating one's skills, and that will probably involve at least workshops, if not full scale multiple-meeting classes.  I would like to hire people to work for me or have people take care of me (doctors, accountants, lawyers) or those I will eventually teach (early childcare specialists, counselors, teachers) be up to date in their knowledge and understanding.  If this guy is truly desperately anxious to never sit in a classroom again, I hope he is going into a career where he will never have to update his skills.  But it seems to me that there is more to education than just this.

I would like to have graduates of my university (and any university, or frankly, any school at all) to have the attitude that what they know now is not all they will ever want to know.  One of my mentors when I started here, teaching Art Appreciation, said that our goal in teaching should be that a graduate, when he or she had the choice of entertainment, would choose to go to a museum.  And that sounds like a reasonable measure of success, even if it would be hard data to collect (my university is very into assessment).  As a result, I count as one of my greatest successes the man who came up to me in the gift shop of the Louvre and asked me if I taught at my university, and told me he had taken my Art Apprec course many years ago and when he had time for a vacation, he and his friends came to Paris and he had been going through the museum telling his friends all my stories.  He had never taken another Art course, and was working as a physical therapist, but his choice was to go to one of the great museums of the world to look at art rather than to a beach.  (To be honest, there are times when I might have chosen the beach)

We can impact people with our enthusiasm, our love for reading interesting books, our curiosity about the world, our willingness to try something that is hard.  Even if the young man who expressed his enthusiasm in front of me yesterday never sits in a classroom again, I hope fervently that he will take from his classes here a curiosity about the world, and an attitude that inquiry never stops.  That, I would like to think, is the case, and his main happiness is that he will never have to sit at an uncomfortable desk.  But not that he will stop investigating things he doesn't know about.  Maybe most of his classes so far have not seemed relevant, but they may be important in the future, whether impressing a prospective partner's family in conversation, or interviewing for a job outside of his original training (which many of us will do in our professional careers).  

I know that I was always curious, but I would like our students to graduate with that curiosity.  If a former student never actually takes a class again, I hope he or she is still interested in the news, and if one follows the news, that will mean learning new things.  Because of the Malaysian Airlines flight 370 disappearance, I have learned a bit more how satellites track planes, and that the bottom of the south Indian Ocean is largely unmapped (I guess I knew this in some corner of my brain, but hadn't processed what that actually meant).  Because of trying to understand the news from Oklahoma I have read up on the process of obtaining drugs both within the US and internationally.  I have learned more about how various drugs affect the body and more than I wanted to know about how to kill people.  But it is something I have felt important to know in order to follow what is going on in the world.  I have on my bedside table a book of short stories about mummies, a kindle with a half-read book about an archivist investigating an aristocratic family's history during the First World War, and a hard-cover book on the history of the Mississippi River (combined with a personal narrative).  My summer reading plans include Hemingway, Arthur C. Clarke, and All Quiet on the Western Front.  I will follow the sports news and root for the hapless KC Royals and sort out what politicians I will donate to in the fall.  I try to be interesting to myself, and I hope I am interesting to other people.  That involves continually learning new things.  And I like to talk to people who are continually exploring the world as well.  I hope our students are something like that.

But I am not like my students (or my students are not like me).  I just hope when we run into each other twenty years from now, we will both be interesting to each other.

Originally posted to annetteboardman on Sat May 03, 2014 at 11:22 AM PDT.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Kudos (6+ / 0-)

    And cheers. A very important diary--a long term issue second only to climate change.

  •  I know what you're saying (12+ / 0-)

    but mostly these days students are graduating exhausted and stressed. They're ready to do something different, and aren't all that thoughtful or original about how they express it.

    I loved my undergraduate experience, but by the time I was graduating I was TIRED OF THAT FISHBOWL and ready to do something different that wasn't sitting in a classroom doing coursework. And absolutely, after 4+ years, students should move on and not sit in a classroom for a while. I know a lot of them immediately segue into graduate school (and in some fields, you kind of have to do it right away) but a break is a good thing. For many graduates "ever" means "not for a couple years anyway while I figure stuff out."

    Undergraduate education is wasted on undergraduates, you know? ;-)

  •  Also, too, I find a lot of my students are (8+ / 0-)

    already incurious. I like to think that part of the institution's job is to help inspire curiosity, but alas, that ship probably sailed in middle school.

    •  Not sure about your assertion, (4+ / 0-)

      but I am not a teacher and I get really pissed off by assholes blaming teachers for bad outcomes. Society in general and parents, the economy and racism - to avoid mentioning budget cuts, policing, personal security and the likelihood of upward mobility, because it is so obviously ridiculous.

      Can a teacher counteract the negative effects of the above? Yes. But it is just a bit short of a miracle.

      I ride the wild horse .

      by BelgianBastard on Sat May 03, 2014 at 02:01:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I guess that there is something that happens (3+ / 0-)

        to kids around middle school where they become really peer-focused and that it is beyond what already-strapped schools can do to bring kids back to that time of wonder that they are born with and manage to keep going even in circumstances that don't necessarily nurture it (and by that I don't mean school necessarily).

        If something doesn't bring them back to a willingness to be curious (and that suggests also a willingness to admit lack of knowledge as well as a willingness to step away from peer-focused mass culture), then it's a lost cause unless adulthood suddenly cracks it open again.

        I think culturally we're incurious. Not as individuals, but the kind of media we consume isn't one that necessarily stokes curiosity.

        •  A majority of parents (4+ / 0-)

          put a high value on conformity. My perspective is from twenty years of community college teaching. They don't want their kids to be dorks or nerds, or to be outstanding in something other than the standard OK things. That means sports for the guys, being pretty for the girls. If their child of whatever gender  wants to write poetry, or look at the stars through a telescope, then they consider that child to be a disappointment.

          Ironic, with all the talk about freedom and individual responsibility, parents want their kids to be just like everyone else's.

          Even in this dismal economy, a lot of parents are pushing their kids to become woefully indebted to get a college degree. They think that their kids will make up for it with great jobs and advancements. Not gonna happen.

          It's the American anti-intellectual culture, and that won't change any time soon. We save the ones that we can. The students who want to break the robot training.

          "The will must be stronger than the skill." M. Ali

          by awhitestl on Sat May 03, 2014 at 05:33:25 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  NCLB has kids bored & teachers powerless (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      because the goal is high test scores, not knowledge. Principals are enforcers of a bad policy. There are isolated schools with low class size and kids & teachers who are more involved. Knowledge & learning are luxuries found only in isolated cases. NCLB, started by the Bush Administration, is an unmitigated failure. They need to obliterate NCLB, not change it.

  •  Where should I start? (9+ / 0-)

    I was by no means anything but a non-descript average high school student.  I graduated on the honor roll, but it was only that final semester of high school I made the grade.

    Seven years passed, and then I joined the Navy.  I went into electronics and to my own amazement I excelled in the classroom environment, graduating from an advanced electronics school at the #1 position in my class.

    It's been work and school ever since.  I'm 59 now and have two semesters to go and I'll finally have a Bachelors degree (Environmental Science), with some 150 earned college credits to my record.  I hope to join the Peace Corps, and I say "hope" because application is very involved and the selection process is extremely competitive.

    I'd like to teach in the Peace Corps.  I want to do something in my life that will make a real difference in the world.

    •  I served in the Peace Corps when I was in my 20's (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annetteboardman, mamamedusa

      61 years old now.  I remember older (probably my (our) age) volunteers serving at the time and they were very valuable in the sense of bringing revered-elder status to their jobs.  (We do not have revered-elder status here in the US - another story.)  Where I am going with this is that you should definitely join the Peace Corps and serve because you in your circumstances are a pricelss volunteer bringing a lifetime of dings and experience and a recently-acquired college education.  (Congrats btw.)  You say that the process is competitive, but your credentials are very strong.  Best of luck and thank you for considering serving!

  •  How Ed Tech may kill that dream (7+ / 0-)

    Thank you for this wonderful posting, which indicates who we teachers are in our lives--curious individuals who try to influence our students so that they may become questioning, thinking, informed human beings.

    But then I just read this from the Hoover Institute:

    That something is the worldwide revolution in information technology—an exogenous development, originating entirely outside the education system, that is among the most profoundly influential forces ever to sweep the planet. With its rooting in information and knowledge, it cannot help but transform the way students learn, teachers teach, and schools are organized. It is the future of American education—indeed, of world education.

    Already, online curricula can be customized to the learning styles and life situations of individual students: giving them instant feedback on how well they are doing, providing them with remedial work when they need it, allowing them to move at their own pace, and giving them access—wherever they live, whatever their race or background—to a vast range of courses their own schools don’t offer, and ultimately to the best the world can provide. By strategically substituting technology (which is cheap) for labor (which is expensive), moreover, schools can be far more cost-effective than they are now—which is crucial in a future of tight budgets.

    Because technology stands to have enormous impacts on jobs and money, the teachers unions find it threatening. And throughout the 2000s, they have used their political power—in state legislatures, in the courts—to try to slow and stifle its advance. But they won’t succeed forever. Education technology is a tsunami that is only now beginning to swell, and it will hit the American public school system with full force over the next decade and those to follow. Long term, the teachers unions can’t stop it. It is much bigger and more powerful than they are.

    The advance of technology—much like the advance of globalization—will then have dire consequences for established power. There will be a growing substitution of technology for labor, and thus a steep decline in the number of teachers (and union members) per student; a dispersion of the teaching labor force, which will no longer be so geographically concentrated in districts (because online teachers can be anywhere); and a proliferation of new online providers and choice options, attracting away students, money, and jobs. All of these developments will dramatically undermine the membership and financial resources of the teachers unions, and thus their political power. Increasingly, they will be unable to block, and the political gates will swing open—to yield a new era in American education.

    That's the goal--perversely in an effort to push a student-centered "progressive" education pedagogy, many schools are aiding and abetting the conservative dream of breaking the teachers' unions and killing public schools.  Of course, the big tech companies from Apple to Microsoft are in on this (see the board of the 21st Century Skills movement), as well as the big education companies like Pearson.

    Their ultimate hope--that there be fewer teachers like you  and more screens in front of students.

    To be free and just depends on us. Victor Hugo.

    by dizzydean on Sat May 03, 2014 at 11:58:38 AM PDT

    •  Notice the bad guys in this scenario are (7+ / 0-)

      teachers' unions, who are "threatened" by this. What propagandist BS. However, the Hoover Institute and the like have been pushing this move towards privatization for decades now and this is just another tool in the tool chest.

      Their kids aren't doing online ed. You can bet that.

    •  Students have different learning styles. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annetteboardman, mamamedusa

      Some will thrive on being alone, in front of a screen, getting minimal personal interaction. If I may be so blunt, this type of person probably enjoys working as a technology developer. And thinks everybody learns the same way that he or she does. The educational tech and software people I know can't understand how education can be done any other way.

      So many students need a social context to their learning. A student may learn facts from a machine. But encouragement and guidance won't come effectively from software. "Instant feedback" about getting an answer right is not the same as a warm, genuine appreciation for improvement. Students know bullshit when they see it.

      A lot of my teaching day is devoted to social work. So many of my students live wretched lives. If Dickens were around today, he would write novels about students I have known. Herding students to computer stations might improve standardized test scores, but in applying knowledge, students may come up short.

      "The will must be stronger than the skill." M. Ali

      by awhitestl on Sat May 03, 2014 at 05:50:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  the problem is that even with such late revelation (2+ / 0-)

    some would never recant their trolling hatemail in, making the ultimate joy of teaching somewhat bitterweet

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013 (@eState4Column5).

    by annieli on Sat May 03, 2014 at 12:24:14 PM PDT

  •  BTW, since you are reading Remarque, AQWF (3+ / 0-)

    is the first of a loose trilogy, which most folks don't realize.  The second book is entitled The Road Back, which follows the soldiers from the front to home, where they try to reintegrate within society and deal with PTSD.  The third is The Three Comrades, following a trio of veterans in the 1920s, as they try to eke out a living, race "Karl the Road Spook" and deal with love and tragedy in a time of growing political chaos.  Remarque borrows a bit from Mann's Magic Mountain for the lot, but he makes it his own.  I find the latter two to be better than AQWF--Remarque's writing is much more mature and the themes are as powerful.

    To be free and just depends on us. Victor Hugo.

    by dizzydean on Sat May 03, 2014 at 12:43:23 PM PDT

  •  The Liberal Arts Ideal may be a good thing (0+ / 0-)

    for those with the means,leisure and inclination to appreciate Art,  Languages, and counter-factual historical novels.

    This  Ideal served the 19th century Bourgeoisie ... who actually learned their professions while on-the-job ... very well -- and it also added richness and interest to the lives of Post WWII, first-in-family baccalaureates.

    OK ... that was then.  THIS is post-NAFTA 'Now!"  

    And what THAT means is:  "A 'skill set' becomes obsolete and non competitive before the college debt assumed to acquire it is fully paid off."

    And, quite frankly, the educational establishments at all levels  have been less-than-candid -- or at best,  " blissfully unaware" that this trend has been emerging,  at least since the First of Reagan.

    And the Political movers-and-shakers have bought into the notion that "national competitiveness" DEPENDS on EVERY child growing up to be at least a "Failed College President" ... just as every Primary School teacher ought to be a fully-credentialed "All But Dissertation" PhD candidate -- whether or not they actually like, or or liked by "children."

    The Gates Foundation flirted briefly with a goal centered educational model that had little to do with mass producing  Computer Systems Analysts and MBAs -- but The Investors didn't much care for that, and the AFT/UFT Teacher found it "too trade-school."

    Though, in fact, for those with the misfortune to be born to the "lesser 99%" ... personal financial well being and security probably lies in the direction of NOT competing with the offspring of the "blessed 1%" -- unless the gatekeepers of the 1% find them SO outstandingly "promising" that they offer full scholarships to the institutions designed and developed to meet the needs of a Measure and/or Managerial Class.

    The "Career and College Ready" slogan ought to be a dead give away:  people who only want "Jobs" and "Lives" are welcome to enjoy their lives of "deprivation and "anxious obedience" -- Asia and India are producing enough engineers and numbers-crunchers to keep the Owners and Managers as happy as ... well as happy as they are right now.

    •  Yours is a deeply cynical and bitter comment (3+ / 0-)

      and while I get your drift, I'm not sure I get your point.

      This, however, is quite condescending and inaccurate:

      The Liberal Arts Ideal may be a good thing for those with the means, leisure and inclination to appreciate Art, Languages, and counter-factual historical novels.
      Art, Languages and counter-factual historical novels are not, in fact, the exclusive root of the liberal arts model, although Art and Languages and Literature (is that what your stand-in "counter-factual historical novel" is intended to represent? Sure, Thomas Hardy and Barbara Cartland are pretty much the same thing!) are a part of that education, which also includes the sciences, mathematics, technology, etc.
  •  In the long run... we are all dead. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, travelerxxx, JanL

    Somebody had to say it.

    Seriously: The problem of education, and reeducation (in the non-work camp sense) is a major issue for developed economies. As is the related problem of those without skills having a tough time getting work, let alone getting ahead.

    By this I don't mean to underestimate the importance of learning and updating skills as often as possible and the important role teachers/proffesors have in that, but as you point out, one may train endless numbers of people, but that doesn't mean there will be endless jobs for them.

    In any economy, communist or capitalist, having say 95% of people getting a good diploma from a good school does not mean those people would get jobs.There will always be a need for people who do 'lesser' jobs. Jobs that are less renumerative, i.e. low pay. Immigration or 'guest workers' can temper that, but a permanent underclass as is the case in the Gulf and as Republicans propose in the U.S. (Including hypocritses such as Sen. Cruz and Sen. Rubio) is neither moral nor a real solution.To me the alternative is clear; a higher minimum wage and slightly higher (and more effective) taxes on the rich.Fine, some billionaires will flee. Many will not. Those who do run from paying a fraction more taxes should be on a list; no Paris, London or New York for them.

    Sorry I went a bit - well way too off-topic - but these issues are intimately linked, I think.

    I ride the wild horse .

    by BelgianBastard on Sat May 03, 2014 at 01:47:58 PM PDT

    •  If we can uncouple "education" from "job training" (3+ / 0-)

      this becomes less of a problem. Wouldn't it be amazing if everyone could read, write, analyze information, draw conclusions, do their own research into things they read to verify facts, weigh evidence, do everyday math?

      Even though everyone isn't going to be an entrepreneur or a professor or an executive or whatever, having well-educated policemen or trash collectors or bus drivers isn't a bad thing. Of course, baristas are already very highly educated. ;-)

      •  That would be great. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        annetteboardman, badscience

        Math, science - which require reading and writing skills and so on, is all for the good. But some won't and some can't and some will fall through the cracks in any/every system.

        As to your primary point (decoupling education from job training), I am unsure about that. I have seen examples of both the good and bad sides of that. To me it seems clear that [more, better] education is a good thing. And the earlier the better (up to a point). It is not a panacea, however.

        But making teachers responsible for societal and familial effects is wrong. I repeat myself of course.

        I ride the wild horse .

        by BelgianBastard on Sun May 04, 2014 at 06:31:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  If we can uncouple "education" from "job training" (0+ / 0-)

        We can't, though. Not in the age of the Market.

        Everything that is, can be bought and sold.
        Anything that cannot be bought and sold, is not.
        Everything that can be bought and sold, must be bought and sold, at the highest price.

        This is the whole of the new law, and the new prophets. The rest is commentary.

        Economic efficiency is the summum bonum. It sits where saving your immortal soul sat for a millennium, and earning undying κλεος sat for a millennium or more before that.

        Baruch atah ha Shuk, dayan ha emet.

        "Politics is not the art of the possible.
        It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable" J.K. Galbraith

        by Davis X Machina on Sun May 04, 2014 at 03:25:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Yesterday was my last day of teaching. (4+ / 0-)

    I just have three finals to prepare, proctor and grade...and the attendant paperwork.

    •  Congratulations! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badscience, mamamedusa

      I think your students are losing a great teacher (and role model, even if they don't know it, even aside from your personal qualities, which are legion, your ability to shift fields and become qualified in a variety of disciplines, and your experimentation with fascinating artwork as well is to be admired).  I wish you the best in your retirement!

  •  The Hierarchy of Needs has something to do with it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and a lot of people just aren't interested in learning nearly as much as earning money, raising a family, recreation, etc. The power in this country seems to want people compliant and distracted by entertainment, not curious, and I think it is working. Why should they care what is really going on? In Iraq, for example, if they or their children are not over there, most people didn't care, except that it costs a lot. After 10 years, they were mildly opposed to it. It is estimated, by Thom Hartmann, for one, that only 5% of Americans are directly affected by our military actions. The majority are OK with other people doing the fighting and other countries getting invaded, because they are not curious enough to find out why we did it, and wouldn't care much if they did know.

  •  Is it possible (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that this group of young men happened to be spatial-kinesthetic learners, the type who learn more efficiently and thoroughly by manipulating objects? (other than books, that is.)

    Had I been walking with you behind them I would have struggled to stifle a laugh, not out of disrespect to them, but because I have returned to higher education not once but twice. As an older student I marveled at how the twenty-year olds sounded younger than their chronological ages, how they were too focused on and too sensitive to issues surrounding social status, and how many had not considered, absorbed, and decided to act on the knowledge that their lives were finite.

    You may have been tailing a group of contingency thinkers, quite a common species, with worldwide distribution. Perhaps, too, they have not acquired truly formal operational thought processes, which we're told may arrive in the mid twenties.

    I avoid lending too much credence to such offhand remarks, uttered as they are by young, energetic, impatient graduates who have yet to shoulder the mysteries of a self-actualizing life. And I say so because the lessons I have avoided, the tasks I have shirked, the wisdom I ignored, has always, always, always, wormed its way back into my life and demanded that I acknowledge it, wrestle with it, and master it.

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