Tell me why…

When I was a girl, my mother would sing a song that started with those words. “Tell me why the stars do shine. Tell me why the ivy twines. Tell me why the ocean’s blue–and I will tell you just why I love you.”

Nothing except the first three words are relevant to this post.

Our students do not understand why they need our classes. They don’t know why we are assigning particular things. Two years ago (or so) I attended a colleague’s class and he started every class by explaining how this assignment fit the learning goals of the course. I didn’t ask him how he introduced the whole course, but I have tried (with more or less success) to explain to students why we are doing x and how x fits into the picture of xXXx that the course is designed for. Sometimes there are goofy rules and sometimes there are good reasons. I confess that I explain them both.

Here is a CHE post on the idea that we need to explain to our students why we do things.

I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a minute (although I agree with a lot of what OAP said).  So, because they want a vending-machine education we should give them one?  My son doesn’t like/want to clean his room but that doesn’t mean that I allow him to not clean it.  Students (in general) have never like to learn without some kind of external or internal motivation.  It hurts their brains too much and it takes time away from things that they’d rather be doing.  As much as I loved college as an undergrad, if given a choice between taking and passing Intro. to Chem. or sitting in my room reading something that I chose/wanted to read, I would have opted for the latter (and still would). 

I think that the answer is not so much giving them what they want but teaching them why what they want is less than what they deserve or what they should truly want or what will help them to become better people (or whatever motivation works).  We in academia assume that others see the academy through the same lens that we do and understand it in the same way that we do.  But they don’t.  They don’t understand the values  that we hold dear.  Perhaps instead of dismissing these students as hopeless and/or helpless, we should try to show them what’s so great about it and how it can add value to their lives as well.  When one of my students gave a persuasive speech on why colleges should do away with electives and the liberal studies core curriculum, instead of exploding in anger or shaking my head in silent disbelief and disgust, I tried to explain to them and the rest of the class the reasoning behind the system and the values that it adds to their education.    I make an effort to teach my freshman comp. students not only what we do but why we do it.  They seem to appreciate it.

changinggears. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2374.” chronicle.com, 29 January 2011, www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2370.html

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