Monday, February 23, 2015

Meeting students where they are

This sums up much of what I have posted recently (hereherehere, and here).

It is often said that educators should "meet students where they are." I take that to mean understanding students' perspectives and patterns of thought, which understanding becomes the starting point for the educational process. But there is not much benefit in achieving such an understanding without also acknowledging what students want and what they are willing to do to get it. Recognizing where students are should inform what we try to do for them, not just how we do it. As I have discussed in previous posts, many students do not want the liberal-arts-oriented undergraduate education that we try so hard to press upon them. This is not an insult, or even a criticism. I think that we would do well to respect what students actually want from their education and to work with that, not with an ideal that educators have in mind.

Educators are not just content-delivery systems: there is much we can do to encourage and guide students, as long as they are at some level receptive to our goals. It is, however, a mistake to try to develop innovative approaches to teaching in order to reach all of our students when some students are fundamentally opposed to what we're trying to do.

It doesn't much matter where I meet my friend Archibald, if Archibald is a vegetarian and my purpose in meeting him is to get him to accept a sackful of cheeseburgers.

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