Don’t Stick Your Head in the Ground

We sort of broached the topic in class, about how we should attempt to address current events in the world. We can flat out ignore them, try to relate them to class, or maybe just have a full on discussion about them. It gets me to wondering what type of interaction I want to have with students. What level of involvement do I want to have with them about things not related to class? I do believe that it is important to important to at very least, acknowledge current events in class.  There are some things that are too important to be ignored. If events could be easily related to topics in the course, then all the better. However, what if there was a semi-logical and semi-valid reason for ignoring current events in the classroom? I’ve got some logic that might fit the bill.

As an instructor, you get a set amount of time, about 3 hours, each week for class. That is 3 hours each week over 15 weeks to try and guide students through various topics and ideas. That is a time when you get to have the majority of their attention. Why would you want to shift their attention to something else? One argument against ignoring current events could be that the student experience is everything that happens in and out of the classroom, so we, as academics, need to better address their experiences outside the classroom. Undoubtedly, outside issues will be on the minds of the students from time to time. Would engaging these issue bring their focus back to the topic of class or keep them off topic for class? What if by keeping it to the topics at hand, we can provide an escape from the outside topics that are on their minds. If the student showed up to class, there must be a little part of them that has some interest in learning about the topic. So why not try grow that instead?

I realize that the example is for only one class, but even when taking four class, that is a total of 12 hours a week devoted to class time. That is 12 hours a week when we can focus students on something else aside from is happening in the world. Please don’t read that as being trying to get them to ignore the world, but rather take a break from it. Personally, I find data analysis provides me with the break from the world I need. I realize that the world still exists and is on fire, but right now all I care about is making R work. I guess it all comes down to personal choice of the instructor, but there might be a good reason for sticking one’s head in the sand.


3 Replies to “Don’t Stick Your Head in the Ground”

  1. I find it extremely helpful and interesting when classes discuss current events that are relevant to the course’s topic. This helps me see the real-world value of what I am learning. When people understand the relevance of different topics in relation to their lives, I find that they are more invested in learning more about it. That said, I can see how some may think that current events can distract — we certainly live in a world full of distractions.

  2. Thanks for sharing.

    You post an interesting topic that has been in debate for quite some time. I teach courses in first-year engineering, and in engineering, there is a huge push to commit to class time and get the most out of the 75 minutes we have with our students twice a week.

    One time I suggested to have more space in our class schedule to actually talk about current issues and how students felt about what was happening. One senior faculty member told me it was a stupid idea, in engineering there are is no place for feelings.

    I disagree, I believe the way we experience the world as persons will shape any aspect of our professional career, and of our learning. Although I see your point and respect your approach, in my experience students that have something going on with the world and are somehow stressed out about anything won’t learn effectively. They will go to your classroom, but is because that is what they were told (“You need to go to your classes”) but I’m not sure if they are learning when something is happening on the outside.

    For me, as a practice, they know the classroom is an open, safe, and brave space, and that I don’t mind taking minutes out of my schedule to have conversations about anything. I have received many positive evaluations in my 12 years of teaching engineering, and they always praise the fact that I took the time to have meaningful discussions. I haven’t had the first student complaining (yet) that because of wasting time talking about how we felt they couldn’t learn one equation or programming code.

    For some students, specially in first year, they don’t know who to talk to, they don’t know what to do when something is wrong, for many of them the instructor in the first year course is the first person they have contact with, and they consider way more than just instructors, they consider us mentors, and in some cases role models. Sometimes they need to have the time to discuss and have a place where they know they can bring up anything.



    1. Thanks for the response. As much as one would like to believe that they could isolate themselves in the classroom from what is going on, it does seem like a foolhardy idea. I can see how distracted students would only show up out of sheer repetition of being in that space at that time. Having a meaningful discussion about something would be better than trying to engage students who would have little or no interest on the content at the time.

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