I had the privilege to speak to a small group of students during what is called HRCS (Honors Residential College Seminar). This is what I introduced to the group, and then some highlights from the discussion.
I opened the discussion by showing the RSA animate of Sir Kenneth Robinson’s talk on changing the education paradigm. If you want to watch it this is the video:
I let them watch it through without interrupting the video and then asked them what it would take to change the paradigm.
The majority did not want to change the paradigm, or if they did they had already been defeated by the current method of teaching. A majority only wanted to game the system long enough to get out of school and get a job.
If you consider the video this is really scary.
What was also really interesting (for better or worse) was that many of them were pessimistic to begin with. Their attitude was not “I want to achieve more out of my education so I will bend the rules”. It was “I want to mess with the system and cause problems”. It was the classic rejection of what they saw as “the man” or “the system”.
Some of them retraced their high school education, reiterating the broken system concepts, and others simply sat almost dejected in the memory of high school. Others talked about standardized tests and the gifted programs.
So the conversation did not remain positive and did not really travel in the direction I had hoped it would, but hey that is one of the possibilities in open-ended discussions. But I let the conversation go, and waited to see where it went. As it neared the end of the discussion I stopped the group and asked them to listen to me.
I asked them to consider three things before we left for the day.
First, that your attitude is everything when approaching a situation. If you go into something with a negative attitude and expect a negative result, that is what you will achieve. I asked them to consider having a more positive approach to their own learning.
Second, I asked them to seek knowledge not education. Yes, as they had explained, a degree shows credibility in your discipline, but it only shows your theoretical potential. Since they did not like that employers only saw them for their degrees, I told them to see the potential in others. I explained that it only takes a moment to lift someone up, or to push them aside. The question was how do you interact with others.
Lastly, I asked them to find their own potential, to drive their own life-long learning. If they passively sit in the lecture halls that will be all they get. I asked them to be prepared for opportunities, and by doing so they could create their own luck. That luck was created when such preparation met the correct opportunity.
I hope this experience helps them as much as it helped me.
While things did not go as planned in the discussion, I learned a couple things from the experience overall. I learned that students have aspirations, even if humble in origins. I learned that while I was intrinsically motivated, many student are only doing what society asks of them – they meet the standards set forth. I learned that I have the potential to be a “professor” (one who professes) much to learn a practice in order to be a teacher and others learn.
I, as Sir Robinson also jokes, have not met anyone who wanted to lower standards. However, we need the ability to instill personal expectations within themselves to do more. These do not have to be named achievements, but that students do not let life pass them by.
[thanks for listening]