I am not sure I have the answers but I know one thing: If you asked a professor versus a student “where and when does learning happen,” you’d get two completely different sets of answers…and a lot more questions about what a higher education means to a student as an emerging adult today. By adult, I mean, someone empowered to create worlds of their own design, with mentors and people whom they mentor; who are ready, willing and able to embrace and be empowered by any communication, eye to eye with the remarkable complexity and oneness of humanity; who are well, i.e., willing to participate wherever they are mentally, physically, spiritually, psychically in a classroom and in their society, and willing to participate NOW not four years or more later. What if a student was engaged as if an active, engaged and empowered adult from the start.
SHOWING UP AS ADULT
I think our scientific, analytical, and academic “thoughting” (all from the past and rarely engaging those unique souls who enter our classroom in collaborative thinking) has fouled our approach to discovering learning. If we think that “learning” is something “real” that we should be able to measure it in time and space, where and when does the act or action that we call “learning” actually take place for students-as-adults?
When students act like what is most important is addressing the teacher or showing off what they learned for me as the instructor, I always share this: Why do need even need to gather in a room together if it is not about learning about people right here in the room not the books? I say there are 600 years of knowledge in a room of 30 students each with forms of knowledge that cannot be replicated in a book and I have 48 of them. The book is not the knowledge, we are. The book is a representation of the author’s knowledge.
We, ALL OF US — EACH AND EVERY ONE, both professors and students are not honoring the liberal arts mission statement that says: “we are committed to producing great citizens, future professionals, and great human beings.” We sure aren’t concerned with testing this. Here’s a test. You can always tell what you are committed to by the results you produce. It would be more accurate to say “we are committed to producing great citizens, future professionals and great human beings as long as you make the grade, don’t speak out in class, and don’t hijack the professor’s lesson plan or schedule.” We are by no means committed to each and every student being great citizens and human beings. Check the results.
FINDING THE LANGUAGE OF LEARNING
Last week, the theme in my introduction to anthropology course was “Language”. As usual students took the online quiz before Tuesday’s class. I have a 95% completion rate when I allow them to take the quiz as often as they like but I also engage them in what kind of learning they are operating in in the process. I ask them to notice if they just memorize the correct corresponding letter they got wrong when they take the quiz again or are they actually creating their own system of noticing their failures and learning from them.
Asking students to evaluate their own approach to learning is essential to empowering learners for life not just for the five-minute university where your education is measured by what you remember not only five years from now but five minutes after the final exam.
I am interested in who each and every student in my classroom measures themselves to be at the start of a class, when an a-ha moment gets them, and at the end of a class and many points in between. I don’t give exams, but i do ask them to assess their own learning in a final reflective essay. Can they answer these questions, esp. in an anthropology course or a racism course, in ways they themselves find enriching or meaningful:
- How have I grown as a human being? as a citizen? as a professional honoring my future now?
- How has this experience expanded my view of the world?
- How do I understand my culture–my learned ways of thinking, feeling, believing and behaving–in new ways?
- Have I gotten something that aids what matters to me in the process? In other words, has this been of value and has what matters to me been honored in the process?
- What conversation, topic or person in our classroom made a difference for you and why?
REAL LEARNING – LISTENING AND NOT KNOWING
So it gives me absolute pleasure and wonder when I read this comment on the Facebook page of my Racism course the other day. It was a comment from a brilliant freshman whom I had engaged with at our last meeting Thursday, March 5th in ways that seemingly confronted her publicly and also invited her to explore other ways of being than being “smart.” Her comment read:
When I leave this classroom, I feel empowered to be unadulteratedly me -I hadn’t realized that the one aspect of me that I’d readily forsaked was the one thing that might result in my liberation from intellectual constraints!
“I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong.” — Richard Feynman