Dear Students,

What is a student? One who studies. Do you study? If not, then you are not a student. Your role and the expectations of you are usually stated explicitly in a syllabus, if you are enrolled in a course. These are not just words. You are expected to demonstrate, usually through words, actions, and writing, that you have learned the subject to some degree or other. And your performance is compared to your starting point, or to the performance of others.

What does it mean ‘to study’? To examine, to measure, to take notes, to consider, to analyze and evaluate, to practice a skill, to learn definitions and examples, to remember, to be able to explain, to try to apply, to demonstrate learning. What is learning? Knowledge and skill aquisition. What are knowledge and skill? Depends on the course I suppose. In my philosophy courses it’s mostly learning the basics of critical thinking, of thinking for yourself. But though I can lead a student to philosophy, I cannot make them think.

Students are responsible for their own education.  You must get it. Education is not about finding the right information that confirms all of your biases, and it is not about a letter on a piece of paper. Take a course in good faith. It is your choice to be there. You or someone is paying for you to be in a specific place and time to talk about a subject and learn about it.  Don’t spend all of your money, time, and energy being paralyzed by fear, anxiety, and throwing excuses and road blocks in between you and your education. Be determined to learn and to accept the grade you earned.

You must demonstrate your skills, ability and knowledge as a result of taking advantage of the opportunity of being in the classroom. No one is guaranteed a specific grade just because they are physically present.

If you can overcome all of the obstacles between you and your education, the reward will be so much greater than a letter on a piece of paper granted you by some institution. The knowledge that your instructor cares about and covets, she does for two reasons that should appeal to you too. First, the benefits of knowledge itself, and second, the necessary distinction from non-knowledge. 

It’s pleasurable to “get” an idea. It’s painful to see others “getting it” while you don’t. And the information if fruitful, continues to pay off, if you can remember it and apply it to solve your own problems or the problems of others. 

It’s also pleasurable to know that someone else does not know something, and to know it because you do know that something. When you know something, you can enjoy or use it confidently for itself, and for you, for others, and sometimes against others. 

Why do you want that grade and that GPA and that paper? Because you want some proof or evidence that you have the knowledge or skill that employers and clients want, because you want money to get stuff or to help your family? But what is more valuable is the knowledge itself. If you get a job on false pretenses, they might find out because you cannot deliver what you were hired to do. But if you really know it, you might succeed.

Because of these values of education, your instructor has a duty to try to help you experience the pleasure that learning ideas will bring you and to teach you how to continue to be able to learn. 

We also have a duty to protect the integrity of our field. If we confer laurels upon those who do not learn then our laurels mean nothing. We dishonor students who put in two to three hours of study time for every hour in class to learn the material and who earn the laurel for their knowledge demonstration when we also give the laurel to someone who takes up space sometimes in the room and pretends that they have worked hard but lack the same opportunity that the student who learned has. This person will blame the instructor instead of themselves, or their circumstances. Teachers are responsible for treating excellent demonstration and poor demonstration differently. It is the reason that each person has a different GPA, and ought to. 

Studying, therefore, must also be a coming to terms with what study is, and that learning is a challenge, and that you must learn how to learn and that sometimes you don’t learn or can’t, and that when you don’t learn you shouldn’t receive the reward that people who did and can learn should receive. But again there’s ultimately the world to show what you know and what you don’t. Everyone can do something of value, but not everyone can do everything.

We must acknowledge that not everyone has the same opportunity, or money, or time, or ability. Teachers should strive for fairness, but cannot make life fair for everyone. We can only try to make our classes fair.

But we must teach the content at the level determined by the institution, and we have to know how you learn and help you learn how to help yourself. Learning to think for yourself is harder than learning and memorizing and recalling ideas. No matter what you end up doing, if you can think for yourself, it will be a benefit to you and others counting on you.

Still not all thinking for yourself is good thinking. You have to learn how to think for yourself well, or rely on others who do.

There’s no shame in admitting that you don’t know something. But it would be a fallacy to conclude that therefore not knowing is a virtue. The virtue is in being able to admit to the truth that you do not know. Socrates admitted he was ignorant, but he was not happy or proud of it.

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