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Saturday, January 24, 2009

What is realistic?

I sometimes think I must have some secret ability to attract information I'm thinking about. For example, I've been thinking a lot about what is realistic to expect in terms of what I can accomplish with my students, and then someone on Twitter directed me to this article in the Chronicle. The author's main point is that students today come to college with a completely different attitude about information, authority and the institution of academia. The article overall is worth a read but the part I particularly wanted to share comes about two-thirds in:
"But we must be realistic about what good pedagogy can accomplish. It is not a panacea — it will not create a society of lovers of learning in which our social ills will finally be cured... Even the best teachers will not convert every student into a lifelong learner who embraces knowledge for its own sake. That is a commitment that must come from within; it is an intentional decision to swim against powerful cultural and economic currents.

We need to understand that college students with an intrinsic love of learning, an appreciation for complexity, and a drive for discovery almost always possess those traits before they report to our campuses. Though we can fan into flames the sparks that these future intelligentsia bring with them, except for the occasional late bloomer, we fail miserably at creating sustained intellectual fires among the vast majority of our practical, credential-driven students.

A better and more widely achievable educational goal should therefore be to inculcate a respect for learning and the pursuit of knowledge."
I very much would like to believe that I can 'convert every student into a lifelong learner who embraces knowledge for its own sake,' and I've been beating myself up because I'm clearly not accomplishing that. So there is something liberating about accepting that perhaps that is not realistic. I am not sure exactly what it means to 'inculcate a respect for learning' instead, but it somehow already feels more manageable.

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