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 ;)

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