The Joy of Discovery

“It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”

–1921, Albert Einstein on Thomas Edison’s opinion that a college education is useless; quoted in Frank, Einstein: His Life and Times, p. 185.

What is School for? I enjoyed watching Seth Godin’s talk about the purpose of schools. It is a simple question and it seems everybody knows the answer. But why most students hate going to school and college every day? Actually, almost all students feel happy when summer comes and nobody will be upset about breaks. Why is this considering that students were not forced to go to college.

As it is mentioned by Albert Einstein, we come to college to learn something that we cannot learn from textbooks. College should prepare students for real life. However, how many of our courses are beyond of the textbooks? How many of instructors care about the purpose of education not evaluations at the end of the semester?
I passed my two requirement courses with an instructor who was the only person offering these courses here in Virginia Tech. He had some slides copied from the textbook and read through them every single session. In those days, I always thought why I am here when I can read the textbook and learn better and quicker. Students should try very hard to get a grade less than A- in his courses because the exams are so easy and straightforward! I guess the instructor get great evaluation grades from students every semester because students feel happy when they get an A. I saw one of my friends recommended this course to others and he said you do not even need to go to the classes and you will get an A :).

Why students forget their goals from coming to college? As it is discussed by Doan Winkel (watch below), many of instructors deprive students the joy of discovery and present the answers to students before even students know and think about the problem. Actually, the procedure is reversed classes and I think that is exactly why most students hate classes.


5 thoughts on “The Joy of Discovery

  1. carriekilleen says:

    Thanks for the post! While the joy of learning and discovery has prodded me to stay in school yet another few years for my PhD, I am DEFINITELY excited about summer break, breaks in general, and not working. Call me a hedonist, but I do great things with leisure time and, if left to my own devices, I would never leave summer break. With that testimony aside, I do not find it that surprising that students hate going to school and/or forget their goals coming to college. While I agree with you that part of the problem stems from boring classes that don’t make you think, lectures gone horribly wrong, etc., I also think a big part of the problem is that many people do not feel like they have a choice in whether or not they go to college. Society and their parents expect them to go to college, and they are seen as low-class or a failure if they do not. Thus, most students probably do not have any sort of goal in mind when the come to college…they don’t have to, they just know that they have to go. They are only interested in the final outcome, because having a degree is all they know they are supposed to get out of college. So, I guess I think that students are, in effect, forced to go to college. I think that part of the solution is allowing students to actually assess what their goals actually are and also promoting other options aside from traditional four-year universities.

  2. Thanks for your post, esp. the quote that college is for training the mind not data-dumping. I have always loved school (though I have ranted and complained plenty of times), but I am not sure I have ever felt that school loved me back. I received degrees and awards, but I always felt like a key piece was missing. I had wanted to return for graduate school for years before I did because I could not figure out what I wanted to study. Everything of interest to me did not require a graduate degree, yet I wanted to explore what I didn’t know. Returning finally after switching fields has felt like a homecoming. I am where I belong, with passionate folks who actually care about what we are studying and doing. The more we explore situations to come up with solutions, the better the education. Our teachers won’t be following us into our jobs, part of the job of an educator is to make sure the student no longer needs us.

  3. Kenneth Black says:

    I believe that the difference lies in mentorship.

    We, as part of society, do not really have a commonly acceptable alternative to college. For some reason going to a trade school or a community college is somehow seen as inferior. The cost certainly is less. I think it will develop as a question of means as “college” gets to be simply too expensive for many students.

    What the college experience lacks for many students is a connection between the educator and the student. This is compounded by the enormous class sizes and then the long “slog” that many of my undergraduates describe their education. But what they find a design or project that engages them it is as though you could never get them to leave.

    The flicker in their eyes when a student gets a concept and sees how it applies to the profession in studio is what keeps me going. What keeps them going is when you engage them as an equal and then provide them guidance to the next idea, the next part of their longer line of inquiry into the profession.

    I believe that we can teach our students to no longer need us, but rather I would say we want them to trust us and in the advice we can give. What Einstein was getting at was teaching the process of knowledge gathering, its synthesis, the development of new knowledge for the discipline, its subsequent advance, the development of “truth”, and the accumulation of wisdom from applied intelligence and knowledge. That we do this in the lens of our “truth” and ethics.

    You will learn your job in the first couple of years. What keeps you from getting bored is what we are trying to teach in college.

  4. Jie says:

    Thank you for your post. Not only students, but also people who have jobs love break. the phenomenon that students love break doesn’t mean students hate school. Students may hate classes which are boring or useless in the future, but this can be solved by teachers or school officers.

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