Friday, January 01, 2016

I don't teach. I want students to learn.

When I meet young people, I feel an urge to flood them with what I have learnt in life so that they can avoid the mistakes that I made and take the shortcuts that I have found.

But, I know better.  No young person wants any advice from a balding, greying, middle-aged guy who talks funny in any part of the world.  So, STFU is the reminder I always give myself.  It has worked quite well so far.  I have an impressive record of only rarely ever volunteering any advice!

Thus, even with the young relative, I merely engaged in a conversation without becoming the older uncle who tells her how to lead her life.  During the chat, I described how I work with students, when my father chimed in with "in India, students are taught, whereas in America students have to learn."

If only a majority, in India and America alike, understood the importance of students owning the responsibility to learn.

There is a role for "teaching," no doubt.  But, for the most part, it is the learning that students need to focus on, which they seem to forget.  As I often remind students, I could be the worst teacher ever, but because it is their life, they need to pay attention to their own learning despite the terrible person standing across from them.

But, they don't listen to me; need I remind you that no young person wants any advice from a balding, greying, middle-aged guy who talks funny in any part of the world!  And they end up writing positive comments and sending me thank-you notes and gifts ;)

I wonder if I was merely lucky that I kept after learning even without anybody ever telling me that education is about learning.  As far as I can recall, right from my early school days.  Like in that physics example, too, in high school; ahem, it is not as if I went to school only for that one girl!  What if high school and college students do not know that education is about learning?  What if nobody has even bothered to clue them in?

I have joked with students--because advice is not well received--that at the end of every term, they should ask themselves, "what have I learnt from the classes that I took?"  If they are not able to easily draw up a list, they should  approach the university president for a refund of the tuition is my joke.  Hahaha!  Humor can deliver truth easily and well--if one gets the joke.

Very few seem to care about learning.  Even in daily life, outside of the classroom environment, there seems to be very little interest in learning.  After all, we need to learn about personal health, finance, ...  Learning is hard work though, which most of us prefer avoiding.

Perhaps it was always this way.  Maybe that's why Socrates had to walk around Athens reminding people about the importance of an examined life, for which learning is a fundamental requirement.  Oh well, I too will "learn" when I am handed a cup of delicious hemlock infused coffee--I hope that will be at my 75th birthday celebrations ;)


Anne in Salem said...

For adults, sometimes the hardest part of learning is admitting ignorance. Of course, then we have to correct the situation, while also working, parenting, etc. “Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” – Will Durant. Someone who is always learning is always a desirable conversation companion, as much for the information he imparts as for the interest with which he listens. "Curious" is a high compliment in my book.

Mike Hoth said...

Well said, Anne. I think the unwillingness to admit ignorance is a key part of the problem. We're told to go get a degree in a field (let's say engineering) and once we have that piece of paper we will simply KNOW engineering. All of it. Have you ever tried talking to an engineering student who is closing in on their degree? Or any of the sciences, for that matter? They're often convinced that they are closing in on omnipotence, because their professors have taught them everything they'll ever need to know.

It's also possible that as a former know-it-all engineering student with a geneticist for a sister I may be biased, though!

Ramesh said...

Yes, the more curious we are, the more we learn. Humility does not come easily, but once that is embraced, learning perhaps is faster.

I am intrigued by the relationship between humility and power. In the world of business, power and authority are huge inhibitors to both humility and learning. After all if you are "the boss" you tend to assume that you know it all. In fact the reverse may be true - because there is so much change, there must be a positive correlation between longetivity and ignorance. To quote your oft repeated phrase "I don't know a damn thing" may be one of the most important pieces of learning to imbibe.

Sriram Khé said...

"I don't know a damn thing" and "Nobody knows anything" ;)

"yes" to curiosity and admitting one's limited understanding ... and, yes, whether it is professors or CEOs or even parents, those with power and authority tend towards behaving like they know it all. The older I get, the more I understand how little I know ...

I suppose a typical student, whatever their field of study, will be way more impressed with professors who confidently put forward an image of know-it-all, and then be convinced that they too know everything because they learnt it from those professors ... hmmm ... if only I could have been that way from way back when instead of forever worrying that students will find out I don't know a damn thing! ;)