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Karen Kustedjo kujo at cco.caltech.edu
Wed Nov 26 19:23:50 EST 1997

a-schmi at uiuc.edu (aloisia schmid) writes:

>It is my feeling that spelling and copying and cheating in general are
>symptomatic of a much bigger problem.  I was telling a friend this morning
>that I have decided I really don't like teaching because I don't feel like
>students really enjoy learning anymore.  That there is absolutely no love
>of learning purely for the sake of mastery anymore.  I am not that old,

I am sorry that you do not find teaching rewarding anymore; examples of
competence are getting rarer and are desperately needed in positions of

It seems that there is a breakdown of communication between students and
teachers.  I had a love of learning as a child and had enough faith in
the idea that an education would eventually be *worth something* (sort of
a cost-benefit analysis:  what else could I be spending my time doing that
would benefit me in the long-term, both personally and materially?  Double
bonus!)  I credit the early teachers in my life who kept encouraging me.

Maybe I got too dependent on this encouragement.  Then I attended a college
where research is the first and foremost goal, and education was a hoop
to jump through to get there.  In some cases, the profs were *so* way ahead
of the students, they could not make their material accessible to them; other
times, it seemed that they were weeding-out the true "disciples" of ochem/
math/physics/whatever.  I heard it remarked that "they beat the love of 
science out of you".  Unfortunate, really, since the undergrads really were
encouraged to get into the lab, and not just to wash glassware.  I found this
experience to be eyeopening -- not just science-wise, but how people in
science behave and whether or not I wanted to be part of the whole mess. 

I feel that in the end, it's worth it for me to study the icky bits because
it could help me understand something more relevant to me later.  Is this
"love of learning"?  Not really -- sometimes only discipline kept me slogging
through horribly written chapters and papers.  But I certainly wouldn't have
gotten to this conclusion if I had not had the initial faith that education
was *worth it*.  And that is something that it may be far too late for a 
prof to instill, but has to be put in at home and in early schooling -- a
consistent message that *this will be worth it*.  

Children are naturally curious and optimistic and have this wonder and joy
of learning.  But how many times has an apathetic or cynical teacher ruined
the subject and closed a mind to that option?  Of course teaching is a hard
job.  But just as the students are not entitled to a good grade because the
school is expensive, the teachers are not entitled to perfect students.  I
remember working my @$$ off studying for a particularly hard subject taught
by a particularly arrogant prof, who would administer quizzes so difficult
that nobody would get more than half correct.  THe prof would then spend
part of the next lecture harranguing the students for not caring about the
subject and that "only serious students should be here".  I hung on by my
fingertips, feeling my self-esteem drop through the floor, but I couldn't
let the b.....d win, now could I?  ;)  This prof made it a "boot camp" 
ordeal, but I sure don't feel like a Marine!

I certainly agree that complex subjects should not be dumbed down for the 
sake of the ignorant or unprepared.  However, attitude counts for a lot.
If you foster an environment where questions are discouraged, you're 
wasting everyone's time.  And offering reference materials to help the
laggards chink the gaps in their understanding would encourage the people
too shy/confused to ask coherent questions.  While you can't always reach
everyone, a good teacher is all in the attitude that *this is worth it, and
I really want you to understand*.

>I am not sure what the answer is.  How do you instill a love of learning? 
>I don't know but I think that even in the last 10 years, we've gone a long
>way towards losing whatever instilled it in the first place. I'd love to
>hear from people as to how they think it might be possible to make it cool
>to be an intellectual again.  How do you make it cool to be well-read, to
>have a great vocabulary?  When did being well-eduacted and literate become
>intellectual snobbery?  And how do we turn that around?

We turn it around by communicating that we care.  And we turn the words into
action and attitude.

Karen K.

"Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, expect nothing."
Karen Kustedjo
"The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a
proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and
oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us." - Paul Vale'ry, 1895 

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