Learners Need To Consider Value Over Use
A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article got me thinking about students taking responsibility for their learning.
The author of the article laments the questions, "When am I going to use this?"
There’s one question that we should all put down immediately, and rage against with the last shreds of our academic freedom: the old refrain, "When am I going to use this?"
This question, I think, manages to embody the worst of our cultural situation. It is a complaint, a subterfuge, an insult, a lazy way out. And before you think I am simply railing against the generational deficiencies in our current crop of students, I’m not. I’ve heard versions of the theme from parents, administrators, politicians, and even, I am chagrined to add, esteemed colleagues. We must put an end to it all. Our obsession with utility — and our childish demands for it to reveal itself immediately lest we "waste" a precious second of our time that could be better spent watching Netflix — reveals our ugliest selves.
It's a wonder why some feel the need to ask this question.
Consider the narcissism involved here. This question implies that its askers have thoroughly considered every possible reality and determined that in no future world could this course, or text, or concept, or material serve any purpose.
There are exercises in futility in education. After nine years of higher ed., I know this to be true. But I never had the audacity to actually ask the question. There was something inherently fascinating about learning to me. I, like this author, understood that there might be value later on that I am just not aware of in the moment.
And I can't help but consider the sleepy eyes and gaping mouths that occur in many of my legal research sessions. You wouldn't think that new lawyers spend over 30% of their time doing legal research. I care about how the information is delivered, and I make sure that most of my sessions include a hands-on exercise for reinforcement (so as not to bore the students to death).
By starting with a fact pattern and working from there - just like the students will do in practice, I make sure to bring in "real-world" situations. It still seems like the majority of students are put out by having to attend these sessions. Like they can't be bothered because they need to check their social media accounts.
Like the author, I am certainly ranting. It's curious to me how one can spend so much on their education to feel like it's all a waste of time. I suppose that paying for college, law school, and library school myself was a motivating factor to find value in all of it - not just the parts that I could immediately use on a paper.