Students’ and teachers’ responsibility; or a discussion on love

Classroom of commercial students and teachers at the State Normal School, Kearney, Nebraska (public domain)

There are two competing views regarding the responsibility students and teachers have for the education of the former. One places primary responsibility on students; the other, on teachers. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin, and they are both mistaken. Before I get to the third way, let me just summarize the two.

According to the view championed by students, teachers have the largest part of responsibility for the students’ lack of success: teachers do not know how to teach, they do not give students enough information, or the tests are unfair. The list can go on.

According to the other, more traditional view, it is entirely the students’ responsibility for their own success. The professor, being an expert in the field, shows to students the content of the course, where they can find further information, or how to use methods to gather and interpret that information.

Both views stem from a punitive, legalistic concept of responsibility that results in fear of failure, anxiety, and guilt for both students and professors. It also harms the educational system as a whole, and it leads to the mentality in which students write for their professors, mentality I mentioned before: see here. This kind of responsibility establishes an outcome and finds an individual responsible for the outcome.

But there is one other possible view that goes beyond this dichotomy. This view says: placing blame for one’s lack of success for something makes sense only as long as we work with a notion of individualism that separates the individual from his or her community, and so inevitably transforms the individual and the community of which it is a part into enemies. There is a different notion with which we need to begin, and this comes, after all, from health sciences. If we consider that students go to schools because they want to be “educationally healthy,” then the cause for everything that takes place within such institutions is the future person that the students want to be. The future person is a cause in one of Aristotle’s senses of causation (the final cause): both students and teachers work together so that at the end of their schooling students are able, all things being equal, to live the life they want to have. It is actually a view based on love: students and teachers are in love with those human beings who graduate universities. In some situations, these human beings will never come to life (they don’t graduate). Of course, we can find “blame” by looking at various events from the students’ lives, incongruity between students and teachers or anything you may think of, but all of this matters not. What matters is the love that makes all things move within an educational institution, and this love is for future beings. Sometimes, regardless of how much doctors do their best and regardless of how much a patient is willing to work for his or her health, the outcome is not positive. But this is life: we all fail in different moments of our existence. What sustains us is the love we have for the beings that wait to be born.

This love does not deny responsibility: it rather gives it dignity. It is no longer about guilt and merit, but about doing our best to be what we can be, knowing fully well that we may fall on the road.

Writing as a slave or as a free man

Writing, Write, Fountain Pen, Ink, Scribe, Handwriting

Perhaps one of the timeless questions I get from my students is, “What do you expect from this paper/assignment/etc.?” The question is justified by a mentality that is partly formed by an educational system in which the new gods are “outcomes” and “assessments.” Be that as it may, it also witnesses to the attitude of a slave, who writes and thinks the way his master tells him.

After all, when you are a student, it is very difficult to write otherwise. You are not fully yourself, you are still in the process of finding who you will be at the end of this education, and so you expect to write as you are told. I actually remember that even if I thought I was a free man, I was not so during my schooling years, and my writing changed the moment I felt I had full responsibility for deciding to say  something. At that moment, regardless of the quality of the writing, I started to do so like a free man, not like a slave. 

I often tell my students that they should write as professionals. That they should not think of my expectation, but rather they should think of what is to be said regarding a certain topic and to serve their audience by clarifying their ideas on the topic. In fact, there is something interesting about this difference, being free and being a slave in writing: when you write as a free man, you become a servant to others (unless you are the slave of your own ego); when you write as a slave, you don’t serve anyone, not even oneself, because you deny yourself before the power of the master.

Writing like a free man is not saying whatever comes to your mind, but manifesting yourself freely as a member of a body of people: recognizing that writing makes sense only as long as it serves the good of another.

A good scene from La vita è bella about the art of serving:

*

I can choose to become the slave of another: false sense of freedom. Out of freedom, I can act as that which I am called to be: a servant of any other.

Student tears

kindergarten.png

Source: http://www.reusableart.com/schoolroom.html.

 

I think I see tears in her eyes.

She’s probably in her late thirties, and she participates in the Convocation for freshmen at her college.

I don’t think I have seen her before. She may be in one of my classes in the future. Or, who knows, she may have taken philosophy some other place. Still, I can’t get over the fact that I think I saw tears in her eyes. At Convocation…

Perhaps it is her first experience in college. It’s not easy to come back to school after so many years. It’s not easy to see that everyone around you is truly dedicated to you, especially after years in which you may have dedicated yourself to others.

Perhaps she has had a difficult life, trying to navigate having a family and having a desire to pursue an education. Or she may have come to school with no such desire, but rather out of a need for a better job.

It does not matter.

Here, now, I think I see tears in her eyes.

I know there will be moments during this semester when I may no longer find resources for dedication–students’ lack of care and of interest, regardless of the reasons one may have for it (being overwhelmed, not loving the field of study etc), is a good friend with despondency. And the semester is long; such things always happen. But I need to remember these tears. I cannot become passive in the presence of these tears.

Give me one student tear out of love for education, and millions of teachers will come back to life.