Sunday, July 31st, 2005
I referred to the 24 hr classroom in this post, but I think this notion of “learning time” needs further explaining because I don’t want to imply that I want people to be “in school” for 24 hrs. Far from it. Thus the title of this post gets archived under the “on reading” series.
The explanation is relevant to “schooling” and time. In an older essay, I put out some ideas on computer conferencing as an aid in “extending” the classroom beyond its traditional scope, playing with the idea that the square classroom limits rather than enhances intellectual pursuit. I find it absurd that we expect students to learn what can be learned about a subject in 15 weeks, four to six hours per week, especially when the “ethic” of learning is really about the grade and the credit, which amounts to equating a grade with a commodity. Most of the students in my classes–not all, mind you, and not always to an absolute degree–really only want to get through the course with a B or better and then move on to the next credit, regardless of the subject. Students do the best they can to “get” the grade they want not to “learn” the material which is the best way perhaps of making the grade. In graduate school I never worried about a grade because I was so involved in showing my teachers that I knew what I was talking about.
In all of this, I blame no one, and maybe I’m being presumptuous. But I talk to too many teachers who lament “how” their students navigate higher education, and I lament it myself. Blame isn’t the point. Typically, we’re thrilled with the “personhood” of students–that is, as people they’re just as interesting, smart, and likeable as any I’ve known.
First, I read the environment and the history students bring with them. Did anyone like school as a child? Maybe the early grades, when recently everything is colors, playtime, and nice posters (note that I’ve followed my daughter’s education fairly closely and know pretty well what’s going on now in her high school. It was never this way for me, posters, play, and fun: I always hated school and would never want to be “young” again). For the yunguns, though, “school” will “happen.”
Attitudes aside, the very presence of “school” in one’s history is an incredible influence on basic human experience of the world. Not to beat this to death, but I remember driving home from a college course just after graduating high school and having this realization: “It’s 10 AM, September, and I’m driving home. What the hell am I supposed to be doing with myself?” (I had been trained that from 8 to 3 I should be in school, the prime destination of youth in our culture.)
More importantly, early school experience “shapes” how we think about a “learning space” in general, “learning space” defined as a “place” where one is supposed to learn, and any place “beyond” or “outside” that “room” or “hall” is preferrable, typically taking the shape of “summer” time when no “teacher” could force me to work on vocabulary. “Summertime” however always came with reminders that “school” was just around the corner.
In this context, what I’d like to see is “school” blurred away as a shaper of human experience with more of a trend toward intensified learning. Practically speaking, this can be incorporated into college because college is and has been still a “matter of choice.” Compulsory education calls for a rigidity to its structure which forms a burden on learning. The more colleges act “compulsory,” the more they will take on the shape of secondary education, impeding education, in the sense that Blake judged hindrances–as in
I went to the Garden of Love
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
As I build my reading list, I’m thinking about the effect of ancillary texts; how do I create a list that will lead to the building of another list by the reader. We come away from “school” with a body of knowledge and attitudes. But does this body suggest a hypertextual tree of life? Do we leave high school ready to add to what we know, to seek out “more” or to change it? Or do we leave relieved, ready for something different, wanting to forget the past? An excellent read should be like an excellent fajita, an “experience” you want to pursue and refashion and consider on your own. Personally, one of the interesting things about my memory is the smell of roasting chiles (chee-less: the pronounciation has a lot to do with the smell and the taste in my memory). Some readers think that there may be some knowledge out there that they need to “get,” some fruit that they have yet to experience, that will help them understanding things better. It may be that, as Plato would say, it’s the pursuit of one thing to the next, a building on the first “discrete/non-discrete” element due to the second that adds a little color to the fruit.
You read a poem. Then a second. The first unfolds a little more. The first adds to the second. Then comes the third and the first and second are dashed against the rocks.