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The Butts-in-Seats Teaching Philosophy

Posted in Process Stories,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on December 22, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionNow that people are grumbling about the usefulness of core courses and education that does not involve an MBA, I’ve been pondering the point of higher education. Is it facts? Maybe not. See what Dr. $hriaz has to say about that over at Worst Professor Ever.

After a few years in the Hamster World, I’m starting to think that education involves a sprinkling of facts and massive doses of the following three lessons:

1. Getting people to sit down, shut up and concentrate. I figured out this lesson when I taught SAT courses. The courses started in 9th grade and led right up to the test. I taught vocabulary and grammar, but I also gave practice tests, and you could measure success by how well the students were able to concentrate. You can memorize as many big words as you want, but it won’t help if you are thinking about your World of Warcraft scores during the test. Concentration is a critical skill.

2. Encouraging people to stop believing everything they hear. OK, this is the humanities element talking, but one of the best exercises I did when I was TA-ing was teaching logical fallacies by giving students print ads and asking them to list all the fallacies. Oh, bandwagon! Oh, slippery slope! I don’t think I transformed my students, but I think that a few of them were surprised to discover that just because something looks, sounds and even smells true doesn’t mean it is.

More after the jump! Image of Canadian students in a train classroom, 1950, from Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia Commons.

3. Helping students get over their narcissism. One of the most irritating aspects about education is how students can custom-fit their schedules or take classes in their jammies or whatever. There’s nothing wrong with that in small doses, and I’m all for loose dress codes, but there’s a high risk that they won’t handle it well when their bosses tell them to be at a workplace from 9 to 5. Likewise, many students grumble about assignments that involve a critical approach beyond describing how a text makes them “feel.” How a text makes you feel is important, sure, but it isn’t everything, and in order to be successful in the class and in life, teachers should take students beyond “me me me.”

What are other lessons that a student should take away from higher ed that don’t involve textbooks or alcohol consumption?

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2 Responses to 'The Butts-in-Seats Teaching Philosophy'

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  1. AMEN, sister, and not just ’cause you pinged my blog. Great job giving a succinct summary of why people should stop knocking the humanities. I think we should print this out in leaflet form and hand it out like Moonies.

    I really can’t think of anything to add, except maybe humility (which is a variation on combating narcissism). Understanding history makes you humble: you are not special, you are not immortal, you are not superior, and you are not likely to to think of something no one else has before. But, as I said, this is pretty much the same as what you’re saying in #3!

  2. gradland said,

    Definitely with you on the logical fallacies–I often feel like the most valuable thing my students take away from my freshman comp course (aside from, hopefully, improved writing skills) is a better bullshit detector.

    I also think that basic planning and organization are really helpful skills honed in college. Most high school students come in accustomed to doing everything at the last minute, and being forced to plan out larger projects day by day, week by week, will surely serve them well in whatever career they end up pursuing. And I always find it funny when they’re surprised that I don’t get “mad” at them for not showing up or not turning in their work–it’s a new concept that they just have to do the work because it’s for their *own* benefit, not because some parent or teacher will scream at them if they don’t.


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