A Bit of Pessimism or Maybe Not

Ever since the Ronco discussion I attended I’ve been thinking about student buy-in into the idea of real education, life of the mind, the caravan, etc. I’ve been swinging between an optimistic and a pessimistic view.

Most days I feel like getting on the roof of my house and shouting out to anyone who will listen about this exciting adventure I am on at Mary Washington. During these high points I can envision students grasping the concept of real and reflective learning and I want to be able to go to the FSEMs this fall and see the new freshman wrestle with this idea. I want to do what so many people have done for me and include them into “the conversation” and show them they can’t pass up this opportunity. I get genuinely excited at the thought of having conversations with fellow students on any topic through an academic lens. Instead of just complaining about classes students talking about what they learned and are even excited to share this information.

Of course with the high comes the crash down into the low valley of pessimism. There is such a culture of anti-school and in some ways anti-intellectualism among students that mass conversion seems impossible. I’m not looking for an instant change or mass conversion overnight but, I wonder how far can we get in the next three years? I’m taking this moment to be a little selfish in wanting all these changes to happen during my stay at Mary Washington but, I want it! I wonder how do we convince students that the caravan IS really cool? I do believe we are moving in the right direction by encouraging reflective thinking and using different tech tools to help make clear connections in learning but, is it enough? I just have visions of the future where technology has made it possible to see connections and has created a rich learning environment but, students do nothing with it. I guess this goes back to the argument made by several people that it is not about the tools but, what the technology enables people to do. Maybe I just don’t have faith in faculty and students to take this movement seriously. There is just so many ways for this to go wrong (I need to stop listening to emo music) that I often miss how many ways that it could work out. I have trouble convincing myself that even if we make a mistake it is ok, making a mess is ok.

I suppose a lot of this conflict comes from my own internal conflict. My secret desire to be a revolutionary even though I am usually adverse to risk and being outspoken. Steve recently sent me this cartoon. I think it describes exactly how I feel during those low moments when everything seems so impossible.



4 Responses to “A Bit of Pessimism or Maybe Not”

  1. 1 Martha June 4, 2007 at 8:28 am

    My perspective on this is that I refuse to think too hard about whether students and faculty in general will be interested or compelled by what we want to build. Personally, I need to be involved in the building of it, regardless of that aspect of the challenge. It’s just something I need to do.

    That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be in deep conversation with as many faculty and students about what it we’re building — I just want that conversation right now to be with the ones who “get it.” I just don’t have patience anymore for the others.

    On most (good) days, I’ll tell you that what we can and should (and will!) create is going to be so amazingly compelling and interesting, no smart person could resist it. Sort of the Field of Dreams mentality, I guess.

    I’m probably deluding myself to a certain extent, by I choose not to care. 🙂

    Also, who says you only get three years in this conversation, Shannon? There’s no particular reason why you couldn’t choose a path after you graduate that lets you continue to work in this space. Regardless of where you go when you graduate, I can pretty much guarantee we’ll still want to keep hearing your voice.

  2. 2 Joe June 4, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    A lot of what you’re talking about should strike a chord with the people who decided to cancel summer Preview.

    Overcoming the attitude of anti-intellectualism, which is absolutely rampant in my experiences at working at Preview, is one of the great challenges of higher education, however, the academic lens which is so crushed via the fascism of the high-school era can be replaced, I feel.

    In short, all aboard the Caravan. Toot toot.

    also lol “emo music”

  3. 3 philosonomics June 12, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    In my humble opinion, this becomes and less of a problem as you enter higher level courses, and more and more a problem as you enter lower level, gen ed courses (at least here at Mary Washington, though my brother at Longwood has described similar experiences).

    Might I suggest the following division of students:
    1) Those who see education as a means to an end (as in a degree is necessary to get a job).
    2) Those who see education as a means and an end in itself (I’d count myself here, primarily)
    3) Those who attend an educational institution because “that’s what you’re supposed to do after high school.”

    Few people will be purely one or the other, but most will be primarily one or the other. As you enter higher levels, you usually see a fair mix of 1 and 2, and those who are in 3 either move into 1 or 2 or leave school completely. I know quite a couple who were in 3 who decided blue collar work was more up their alley: more power to them. Turns out they were in 1 and 2 all along, but a liberal arts education was not what they needed/wanted.

    In summary, I’m optimistic that, if afforded the opportunity, all people will eventually be in 1 or 2. Deal with 1 in some future utopian society. For now, I think 3 is the most important category to look at. Either find a way to include 3, or keep people in 3 from feeling as if they have to attend college “just because that’s what you do after high school.” But just because a student badmouth’s an otherwise good course doesn’t mean she’s not really in 1 or 2… just maybe her favorite subject matter isn’t mine.

  1. 1 Reflecting on Education: The Job of Student « Philosonomics Trackback on October 1, 2007 at 9:38 pm

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