Thursday, February 24, 2011

If You Won't Be A Disruptive Influence in Class, Then I Will

Nothing like shaking the intellectual foundations that students hold to be self-evident to get them out of their apparent stupor. Suggest that education could and does serve a purpose beyond financial gain? Heresy, and they let me know it. 

One particular student, before class, was loudly complaining about the quality of the readings on education that they had to do for homework; she sits in the front and timed her comment just as I was walking by. Duly noted. As the class progressed, she clearly indicated that she thought that the ideas about education being put forth in the essays were completely impractical and not at all useful, and thus a waste of her time.

What were these essays about? "Ancient" ideas about what education is for: shaping better human beings (although in the essays, they say and mean men). Education for the purpose of profit or making money was frowned upon, if not outright dismissed as being the dirty work of the sophists. It wasn't all just Ancient Greece, either; we read essays on education from Ancient China and the Ancient Islamic world. But all three shared a few important commonalities: education for the general greater good, education involves hard study, and education to better the human soul.

These ideas are, of course, completely foreign and almost inconceivable for my students. They all agreed that they were in college to get their degrees and get a job and no other purpose, except perhaps to party and move out of their house. This idea that education could be useful and good for reasons other than economic is a provocation, a disruption. And I just. Kept. Pushing.

How many of you have really ever thought about the reasons you decided to come to college? I mean, really thought about it? I asked them what they thought about school, and why, then, does school seem so opposed to what education might or could be about? Eyes rolled and I heard what these Ancients were proposing for education was both impractical and inefficient. And the system we have today is efficient and practical? Why is it that we abandoned these ancient ideas of education at the same historical moment we started educating everyone?

I pushed and I pushed. How is our blind adherence to what our teachers and professors say any different than a bling adherence to what a preacher says? Each is accepted unquestioningly by you, the learner and listener.  Do you do anything during your time here in university other than listen to the teacher, takes notes, and cram for the exams? Do you actually take the time to think and to really learn?

I admitted that, at the end of the day, we're all here for similar reasons: the money. I try to encourage their enthusiasm for the course by pointing out all of the ways that what we are doing will help them be successful in and after college. I know the rules of the game, and I am a product of it. But from now until the end of the semester, I'm going to do my best to be a disruptive influence on their (and my own) education.


  1. I can't believe there are no comments on this yet - I loved this post. I've been a reader of you for a while - but I like to read and think independently - and by the time I'm ready to comment I feel like the world has moved on. This time though, I had to come back and do it.

    I love to push. If they won't, I will - and they like it in the end. It's the most important thing I think I have to give - is demonstrating how pushing means you stand out from the crowd. It means you're ahead of those who won't. It means you have a better chance of progressing, of going further, of getting that job, etc.

  2. That was supposed to end with - I agree with your points on education as well. Keep pushing on.


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