Last week, Cathryn posted a comment to Melissa’s entry called Which fashion school is best? I thought it was worth publishing as part two, a counterpoint from the perspective of an educator.
I can agree with much Melissa has written– even though I teach at one of the institutions (a not for profit –but not famous either- University). Much that she writes is true; machines break, administrators and instructors or professors lie, some people should not be in classrooms and some are just lazy. The opposite corollary is also true- but I will not go into it- you probably get it. I have another point. And my point is not a refutation or disrespectful argument with Melissa. Here is my view:
A student is not a consumer.
That is not what is going on at school.
It is a bummer to try to teach or even engage with consumer-students. They sit there passively, waiting for entertainment, empty vessels, arms folded, looking for justification for the huge sum of money they just spent. They are cynical, not so earnest, mostly ready to be gone with one foot out the door to matriculate and get what they paid for: a certificate. They pretend, they fake and they try to game the system. They also email me 24/7 over trivials or to get advice without effort. They complain if I am not sitting in my office. They miss appointments, assume that while they are too busy to do their homework or to even buy the text (it is too expensive) or to attend class because they have a doctors appointment, they should still get an A because they turned in all of the assignments and came to class. Here is where Woody Allen and I disagree- showing up is not 80%.
If I “give” them a bad grade, it will mess up their GPA and they say they aren’t going to use “my” information anyway. Therefore, I am deserving of their disrespect and glib disregard. This is not a blanket condemnation of all my students. Even some of the consumer-students are kind of awesome in their own way but it is still a drag.
This has all been said before -sorry- but I am hearing more and more from prospective employers. They are seeing an increase in students applying for positions who feel entitled and they don’t like it. I see entitlement as part and parcel of the same concept of students as consumers.
An education is not like a car or a house. An education evolves the student into one who has the capacity to synthesize the particulars they will confront in their future careers. This sounds like BS but I have thought hard about this. You cannot buy an education.
An education is an evolution. It requires the invested engagement of all participants; first and foremost on the part of the student. It requires the willingness on the part of the student to change and be moved. An education is not a passive transaction.
These days, you can pretty much teach yourself anything given the time, discipline and determination. You don’t really need to go to school. This view can be challenged easily but not disproved. So, why go at all? Here’s some reasons why:
- To evolve, to be pushed through the tube within a given time line and in the company of others in a weird but structured environment -that usually bears little resemblance to the real world (whatever that is)- and for good reason. The real world cannot tolerate the high percentage of errors, rabbit holes, diversions and experimentation that are required elements of your evolution. The structure is to provide you with an environment that allows you to step in and step out of the process so you can still have a life and so you don’t fall off the edge completely. It is not designed to crank out identical occupational copies of you. Schools may be designed like a factory but we fail miserably at this model. We can’t turn out copies that meet our specs -if we have them- since no one can write them and the terms are changing all of the time. Not to mention the amazingly random sourcing of materials (students) for output. [Very big topic- too long for here.]
- To buy the time to focus on the subject or many subjects, in ways that you will never be able to do again- unless you are really lucky or you retire.
- To be in the physical proximity of the instructor, to see them moving and acting; in the case of the web class, lean more heavily on #1. Respect is a key value here. Hey Student! Why be so cynical? Why waste time doubting? Just be earnest, it won’t kill you. Maybe instructor is not awesome, maybe you sometimes figure out they made an error, or screwed up. You may know more than they do about something (but did everyone else?); this shouldn’t mean they are to be immediately relegated to the trash heap. Think again. What are you bringing to your table? Are you an empty vessel? What are you doing to get through the tube? Are you merely following instructions? That’s not what we all need.
- To peek into the arrangement of resources and perspectives accumulated and presented by the instructors. Melissa mentioned syllabi that are “vague”. A syllabus is an outline or a summary of the main points of a text, lecture, or course of study. Very detailed syllabi do not guarantee that you will absorb the material. Vague ones likewise. What is a vague instructor? That’s rhetorical, I know what that is but -and not to be confrontational (genuinely)- I also wonder at the passivity of sitting and the student failing to reach for the piece they think is missing. We cannot guess what that piece is; there are so many students coming from so many perspectives.
In class I hear, “wait! I am so confused” all of the time. Maybe my instructions are to blame. I self check rigorously but I suspect that confusion is a necessary part of the process. Confusion feels uncomfortable to people who have rigid expectations of certainty, immediate clarity and uniquely defined boundaries of order while learning.
Learning is making mistakes. I scarcely pay attention to something that comes together on its own, especially if I am struggling with something new. My mind is totally focused when something goes awry. Learning is why and how, and learning to correct and avoid errors.
Practice -life after school- comes later if ever. Schools can’t make you awesome at anything really; that’s your job. They can show you a way, it is your job to take it. Besides, it takes years to get good at things and there is no time in school. Contrary to what we all are thinking now, schools are not the solution to a job loss (ummm..that is a scary thing to write).
This is the point I am trying to make: you can acquire a good education in any number of ways and in many, many places. A few of my best students aren’t and weren’t such good students but they were engaged, creative and resourceful. They often brought something to the table for us to work with so we found the means to move ahead all of the time. The process was reciprocal as it should be. They were never empty vessels waiting to be filled (yuck). It is cool to work with them and it is also fun. Fun relaxes the mind; it makes learning more possible and evolving, more probable.
Not everyone can fit in at FIT or Parsons and not all poor institutions are a bad idea. Not everyone has a great experience at Parsons or FIT and not every class they offer is “da bomb”. So what? Are you ready for “da bomb” anyway? That is the main point. So much of this is completely lost on the young ones; it’s awesome really, how long it takes to become a whole person.
So, I apologize if this seems a bit wacky, too long and confrontational. I do not mean to be so. I agree fully that schools should be carefully vetted and if you want to go to the lengths suggested -awesome. Seriously, for my sake as well. Although, I wonder how I would fit demos of all my machines for all prospective students into my schedule and even though I know why this was suggested.
But then you have to resolve to be a student and stop with the “I am a customer and you provide a service” mentality (within reason of course – I also have kids in college). You have to be responsible for your education. You have to “bring it” and keep doing so wherever you land.