THE CHANGING FACE OF LEARING

by Marc Cullison    [mcullison.com]

When I was in junior high and high school, education was important. It was important to my parents, my friends, and me. That was the unspoken fundamental drive of my family. Education. That’s what my parents wanted for my brother and me. To be educated. Smart.

That driving force is what shaped my childhood. It battled with my interests, friends, and time. I wasn’t the best student in school, but I held my own. Most of my grades were As and Bs, a few Cs thrown in to keep me humble. I was always so proud to be able to hand my report card to my mother and let her revere in the As and Bs that appeared there. Then she would show it to my father that evening. I rarely heard anything from him on the matter, but I knew that he knew. It was a good day when I was able to do that.

But a C on my report card would bring a huff of disapproval and I knew that my next nine weeks would be spent trying to absolve myself of the shame of that C. I knew I had to spend more time on the books, get to my homework right after school, and say to my friends, I had to study. It always worked. The next report card was better and I was off the hook. And I felt damned good about myself.

College was a de facto goal in my family. I would be going to college, whether I wanted to or not. Well, I’m pretty sure that had I resisted strongly enough, I could have done anything I wanted. But with a life-long emphasis on education, there was little else I thought about except college. It was an aspiring goal for most kids in school. We just assumed that we would go to college, get a good job and live happily ever after. Of course, we didn’t have many of the obstacles that stand in the way of today’s youth. I think I would find it difficult to be a student today.

But I did go to college. I was in a new world there and had to watch myself carefully, but not too carefully. The professors were like gods to most of us, or at least us nerds. They were the all-knowing embodiment of education. I would never dare cross one of them, show up to class without doing my homework, or fail to study for an exam. I couldn’t have withstood the embarrassment. Nor would I have shown up in class in anything but slacks and pressed shirt, shined shoes. No shorts. Shorts were not worn to class back then. It just wasn’t proper. There was an air of formality about a college education back then. A sort of contract between the student and professor. He or she taught and we learned. Our books were scant and thin, not filled with the numerous illustrations and sidebars found in textbooks today. We had to figure things out. We had to think it through. We had to find the answers. No one was there to just hand them to us on a silver platter.

The students I see in my classrooms today are a far cry from what I was in college. There is little drive to learn, there is little ability to think for themselves, there is little aptitude for logical thinking, and little respect for the instructor. It is almost as if they expect to be granted a degree just for occupying a seat in the classroom, if they choose to show up for class. They buy the textbooks, but few of them actually read them. Many of them can’t. They never learned how in the secondary schools, but yet there they are in college. How the hell do these students get into college without the fundamental skill of learning? That is a question no one seems to want to tackle.

Of all of the standards handed down by the state and federal governments, none of them address the real problem of learning. If the students don’t see the need to learn, they aren’t going to learn. It all goes back to the family. That is where the drive, ambitions, and priorities of life are instilled in a person. It’s what shapes their perception of what is important in life. For many of my students, that line of importance is drawn under whatever makes them happy. After all, that’s the easy way out for most parents. Just give in and let them have what they want. It is the parents who have failed. They have failed their children by failing to instill the necessary self-worth in their offspring. I say necessary, because it is usually too much (over-praised) or not enough (neglect.)

Most parents had a tighter reign on their children when I was a kid. They were the authority and I hastened to it. It seems that authority has little meaning today. Even the parents ignore it. So, we, as parents, have lost part of our control of our offspring. That means little discipline. And that means little focus on education, unless the child is one of the fortunate few that wants to learn. There are a few of them. I get some every now and then in my classes. They are the ones who will succeed. The rest will flounder until they realize what life is all about. Some of them will snap out of it and become useful citizens. The others will continue to mooch off of society and be exploited by those who actually did learn something in school.

How sad that a nation as prosperous as ours has such low educational achievement. Until society changes its priorities from self-gratification and voyeuristic adventures through sports, our educational system is doomed to failure.  Even many of the folks who are in positions to effect change are products of this new parenting paradigm that ignores the importance of education. We’re screwed.

About marc cullison

Retired college instructor, math and science. I write and read as much as I can. I am also working on my log house. So much to do.
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