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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Learning: Whose Responsibility is it?

While perusing my RSS feeds I noticed a post by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. about teaching and students and whose responsibility it is to learn. Modesitt makes a valid point by stating:
The responsibility for learning has been quietly but dramatically shifted over the past two generations. Long years ago, when I was in school, and longer years ago, when my parents and grandparents were in school, the responsibility was very clear. Regardless of the circumstances, the student was the one who was responsible for learning, and the teacher was responsible for teaching. Today, everywhere I look, and everywhere the teachers in my family look, the responsibility for both has been placed on the teacher. Today, teachers must inspire; they must create the atmosphere in which children will learn; they must create a climate where student self-esteem promotes learning. Everything must be positive, despite the fact that, outside of school, life has a tendency to provide far more sticks than carrots, and that "life lessons" can be brutal.
Interestingly enough, I agree wholeheartedly with this. Teachers have become responsible for producing results in students, but the reality is that students should be more responsible for their learning (and it is the job of parents to make sure their children are responsible). Once you get into college it becomes crystal clear where the responsibility sits, because professors don't give a flying fig about whether you succeed or not (well, if they like you they do); they are there to teach and if you aren't willing to learn, that's not their problem (some professors are exceedingly open to discussion though, and are not fascists who aren't willing to help you better understand).
Modesitt goes on to talk about why students have little motivation, remarking that, "[it] has gotten to the point where most students take little or no responsibility for learning, particularly if the subject is difficult or 'boring.'" While I agree with Modesitt on the basic principle, I think something should be said about why students lack that motivation. It isn't just that the subjects are boring; they, too, feel that the subjects are of little interest, and in a way they are right. To those of us who have an education (mine is almost exclusively within the arts) understand the importance and value of that education (with exception to the occasional thing that I know I will never use again).
But imagine how kids who are learning a wide range of subjects feel about those subjects. How many of them are actually going to want to become biologists or chemists or historians? Most people don't head off to college to advance themselves, sometimes for good reason, or at least what seem like good reasons to them. "I'm never going to use geometry." "When am I ever going to need chemistry and biology if I'm going to be a contractor?"
I'm not saying that this sort of mentality is right, but I do understand it. I also understand why the burden has been placed on teachers. Too many of our students don't care, even the intelligent ones who could very well become leaders in this country, or in the world. We have to get to the bottom of why they aren't enthusiastic about learning. Do their lives at home influence their interest in learning? I imagine that the environment a student lives in will have significant impacts on his/her education, and here I leave out the obvious instances of home environments that are not conducive to learning (exceedingly abusive parents, child molestation, kidnapping, etc.).
I don't know if Modesitt is suggesting that teachers stop playing an active role in getting their students interested, but if so, I think that will be a disservice to society as a whole. I do understand where Modesitt is coming from and I do agree, but when it comes down to it if we just sit back and say "we're not going to push you to be interested" we will end up with an entire generation of kids that fit into the following:
  • Don't know anything and realize it.
  • Don't know anything and don't care.
  • Don't know anything, but think they know a lot of things.
  • Don't know anything, but don't know what to do about it because they don't know anything, or they feel that it's too late.
  • Don't know anything and have no drive whatsoever to do anything productive.
  • Insert your own version here.
We need scientists. We need teachers. We need literary enthusiasts and educated people in this country. The fact is that we can't rely on students to become enthusiastic about certain subjects on their own. We can't rely on students to become interested in advanced education without a little push. Something has to give, and unfortunately with the majority of parents not playing an active role in their children's lives (or playing a negative active role by effectively attempting to dislodge or deconstruct what their children are learning) we have to lean on teachers (and this is short of making public policy that dictates how people teach their children, which would, in my opinion, be a significant breach of civil rights). Teachers are our mediating factors and until such time as parents or students become more involved on their own we are going to rely on teachers to do what has to be done to keep this country competitive and educated (to the best of our ability).

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  1. Much agreed that our teachers help motivate our kids - their students. However, I thoroughly shake my head to the parents that are so unwilling & lazy to teach their kids responsibility and accountability. Then they shouldn't be having children. Kids are a blessing but it seems only the more educated society understand the dedication needed to inspire our youngsters. Why is that?

    Anyhow - we are all special but not so special we shouldn't have morals, values, and inspirations instilled into us. As our current work environments have even seen the difference in ages. Kids think they deserve it all without doing anything (learning, working hard, etc.) for it. I pray our teachers & dedicated parents continue to influence positivity ...

  2. You're saying teachers shouldn't be inspiring and work to give interesting lessons?

    I pity your future students.

  3. No, I'm saying they should be inspiring, because nobody else is doing that job at this point. Parents won't push their kids, so someone has to.