Thursday, February 11, 2010


Something I continue to find odd is the sheer number of students I have met in all walks of life who want to do almost anything they can to avoid thinking.

That sounds weird, particularly in an educational setting, but the fostering of original thought and investigation seems to be trying.  Maybe it is the fields I am in, but the curiosity and desire to rumble things around and work them through are sometimes somewhat lacking.

Just the facts ma'am. Just the facts.

That's what so many of them want, they simply want the chip inserted.  Slide it in here please and I'll be on my way.

I find this so very odd.

I can understand why some of them feel this way.  I have students, in Canada as well as here, who are being sent to my courses by their workplace.  They do not necessarily want to learn the material, but are required to do so.

They tend to be quite diligent, but definitely want to take the easiest route.

That rarely involved thinking.  Memorisation, sure.  Creative process.  They perceive not.

There is also something about becoming a student that engenders a passive relationship to the material.  This I believe strongly is trained into us by the schooling system that fundamentally views children as empty vessels into which we are obliged to pour a certain body of knowledge, attitude and experience rather than viewing them as active driving forces of the learning process.

This bites us in the butt later as well.  Instead of engendering life long learners, we are engendering life long passive viewers.  A self-definition that is inherently receptive and without engagement. Something to be thought about.

I acknowledge that everyone has their own way of learning, but I think every manner of effective learning should involve a certain amount of active thoughtful engagement.  No?  Yet shy away from it they all do.  I was listening to a Yale University class and the prof was urging the students, these may I remind you are Yale students, that exams are a time when they get the opportunity to truly grasp, possess, master and manipulate the material.  To think about it in new and creative ways.  To search for connections and relationships that they otherwise might not have forced themselves to have gained sufficient knowledge to allow to happen.  Not a sticking noise of delight in the background, but I do fundamentally agree with her sentiments and long have.  A well written exam, if you have studied for it, gives an opportunity to manipulate and focus the material that does not happen at other times.  Fun in fact.

Delightfully, my kids seem to agree (in general).  Eldest was checking out a book about paintings at breakfast, and loving it.  Youngest's teachers have also commented that she is not satisfied with simply completing the exercise, but rather wants to master and understand it, even in topics she dislikes.

Makes me utterly happy.

On another note.  Eldest, who as I am sure you have discerned is a teenager, came home and stated loudly and clearly that she is officially embarrassed to be a teenager.

So sad ;-)


Beth said...

I was a very shy, quiet student (rarely put up my hand) & teachers often mistook me for a memorize only kind of kid because I did so well on tests and exams. They were so wrong. I devoured knowledge – point me in a direction and I was off and running. In university, I made a concerted effort to change – participated, was part of the discussions. Looking back, both ways were good - suited the personality I possessed at the time. And either way, I learned.
Have always been thrilled that my kids love learning – although not always what was taught in school! – and have passions and interests that occupy their hearts and minds.
(wow – lengthy comment – your post touched a nerve…)

Lynda said...

Very interesting. We have thought about this topic often. Our eldest had lots of learning difficulties... resulting in us returning to Aust so that I could get her the best help possible (sometimes international schools cater only to the middle ground) - she ended up in an alternative primary school where the curriculum was based on 'child centred education'. And she started to bloom. It was extraordinary to see a child suddenly take interest in the world.

The Teen stuff... oh lord, only advice: don't sweat the little stuff. We made it through, but only just and with vast quantities of alcohol involved (for us, not her) There is light at the end of that tunnel, but you have to go through the tunnel first.

Helen said...

Brian says the hardest thing is to make students think. So many countries teach them to commit information to memory and not think about it. To get them to think, to imagine is very hard indeed.

My favourite pointless bit of memorising was from a Ugandan student who had been made to memorise the Berlin underground map! Why on earth would anyone in Uganda need that? Why would anyone in Berlin need it? Madness

Do you teach to educate or teach to pass exams? The two are not always, in fact frequently are not, the same thing

Trish said...

awesome blog header; did you paint it? Thanks for commenting on my posts; i appreciate. By the way, i so identify with having students who just want to get the knowledge poured into them; all my students have that tendency; it's very disappointing.

WrightStuff said...

I think it's the old education wasted on the young adage. When I was a student I suited the sponge method. It's only as I've got older that I've learnt to question and think. I think the education system is too much about passing exams which forces teachers down the shovel it down their necks route. I was unprepared for University, I couldn't think for myself.

oreneta said...

Beth, I think a whole lot of kids are misread by their teachers, or are ill matched to the education system they are in. Hard to serve everyone when the system only speaks to one kind of learning.

Lynda, glad she got help when she needed it. It is wonderful to see them blossom. The teen stuff isn't too bad so far, indeed we were all laughing pretty hard when she said it.

Helen, Ugandans memorising the Berlin Underground map???? That is just bizarre. Thinking does seem to come about rather rarely.....sad isn't it.

Trish, I did paint it....thanks. Students come in all shapes and sizes don't they.

Wrightstuff, thanks for coming by! I like to think that most folks come out of university able to think, as a minimum, but maybe not.