Why are you taking this class?

“Of key importance are the differences between the students’ agendas for higher education and those propounded in college mission statements.   Assumption College, for example, requires students to study literature in the fond hope that these courses will support students in their future reading.  But reading is something many of our students do almost exclusively in courses.  Seventy percent of our first-year students read five books or fewer outside of class during their senior year in high school.  So, although we offer literature courses to help them read more insightfully, they read literature to pass our courses.  Similarly, we require them to take history courses so that they will learn about the past.  They study the past, however, to pass a history course.  As a consequence, their failure to take from such courses the lasting benefits envisioned in the college catalog does not seem at all tragic to many of our students.” McClymer, 1992*

I would add that this means that our students failure to voluntarily engage** shouldn’t be surprising.   

This is not specific to the study of literature and history.  Students learn about the scientific method, or genetics or botany because they must pass science classes too, not because they have a burning interest in it (in non-majors intro courses).  Lecturing in this situation is the easiest thing to do but only compounds the problem in my humble, 2nd year teacher opinion.   My best classroom moments have generally come when I mildly confused my students with a task to complete (either intentionally or unintentionally) and they found their way out of the confusion with limited yet focused guidance from me.

Students not reading books? It was happening…(swallow)… “way back then” too.  Before the internet, so we really should stop blaming that.  I would like to know the correlation between how many books a student reads and how many books their parents read.How many books per year do you think a senior in high school reads per year now?  How many should they be reading?  How many did I read then?  I can’t remember, I am broken now – at some point my free time came off in  a minor collision with life and it makes more sense to keep tack of pages read now.

* –   McClymer & Knoles 1992 Excellence in College Teaching

** – answering questions in class is NOT voluntary engagement, in my opinion.  Asking questions, is.

Postnote – as I was writing this, Georgia (as she was eating her yogurt across from me at the kitchen table) imitated the monkeys in Madagascar: “CAN, YOU, READ?”  “No, but Phil can… Phil?”.


About SubOptimist

I am an Associate Professor in the Science Department at Georgia Perimeter College, Clarkston. I teach introductory biology courses at both the majors and non-majors level in addition to microbiology. Previous to that I spent 7 years as a postdoctoral researcher on different viruses. While I don't miss being on the "grant treadmill", I think better when I write and miss writing up data for papers and grants; this blog helps me with that a little. And sometimes my kids' insanely funny and cute antics need to be shared with the world. Any view expressed in this blog is that of me personally and not Georgia Perimeter College or the GPC Clarkston Science Department.
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