Structuring Learning is My Job. Getting an Education is Yours

purpose of education

Last night I attended a wonderful panel hosted by a colleague of mine about intergenerational resistance via the hip hop movement. The panel consisted of Sonia Sanchez, Adam Mansbach, and Chinaka Hodge.  The panelists were very good and certainly had some thought provoking ideas and critiques of the current hip hop generation. In this moment I wish my blog was not just about education because I’d like the opportunity to process through responses I have to some statements made by Sister Sanchez, but I digress.

At the end of the panel, a student made a (somewhat irrelevant) comment about not being challenged academically in his ‘IB and AP classes in high school and currently’ at our institution. He also said that he ‘isn’t being taught how to think’ and all he is receiving is ‘knowledge’ when he’d rather have ‘wisdom’.

I, of course, had an immediate visceral reaction to that. I leaned over and whispered to my colleague ‘Whose classes has he been taking? He certainly isn’t in mine.’  She chuckled, but nodded in agreement.  Another student whom I know well was sitting two seats down from me, overheard my comment, laughed, leaned forward and said ‘I knew you’d say that.’

You’re darn right I said it! And I mean it. He can meet me in Room 232.

The youngest panelist (who is a year older than myself and a graduate of NYU and USC) responded quickly to his statement. She said ‘It is not the College’s job to teach you.’

In true ‘church’ fashion I responded ‘YES!’

She continued, ‘If you want to be challenged, you need to seek those courses. You need to take the information you get in class, and do something with it outside of class.’  She shared that her most challenging experiences as an undergraduate did not happen in her NYU classes; they occurred when she did a practicum at a local high school for international, first-generation American, students.

If it had been appropriate to stand and say ‘PREACH!’ I would’ve done it. Since that was not the place, I shall do it here.


Because she is right: it is not the College’s job to teach you.

Teaching is a part of a process that includes many more components than teacher, information, and student. There is the recognition of a need for something, there is the choice of what that something is, there is the medium through which you seek that something, there is who you choose to provide that something, there is where you choose to search for that something, there is the medium through which it is delivered, and then, most importantly, there is what you choose to do with that something.

No, we are not solely responsible for any step of that process.

But let me be clear: I am in no way suggesting that the College or its faculty and staff bear no responsibility in the learning process. On the contrary, we are collectively responsible for structuring that process at our institution. Students make the choice upon application whether they can learn within that structure. Their decision to matriculate is an unspoken statement they’ve decided, yes, they can.

So once here, I occupy my position in this process and I execute my duties. First, within the framework of the College, I align my course offerings with the mission of the College. If we are to cultivate critical thinkers, I design courses whose content is uncertain, debatable, called into question. If we are to graduate well-rounded individuals, I choose readings that represent a breadth and depth of opinions. If we are to meet the needs of diverse students, I include narratives from diverse people, employ diverse teaching methods, and create assessments that cater to diverse learning styles. If we are to encourage community engagement and nurture a generation of civic minded citizens, I make at least a third of my courses community-based learning courses through which we work directly with community partners to collaboratively solve community problems. If we want to foster compassion, I am compassionate toward my students. I speak with them, not to them. I am available beyond scheduled office hours. I advocate for them when they feel disempowered. I help them become empowered by listening, challenging, and guiding.

So no, I do not ‘teach’ you; I provide learning opportunities. I do not tell you how to think; I provide experiences that make you think.

We have moved beyond the banking model of education. We no longer believe that learning happens when information is transmitted from teacher to student. No, learning does not occur through the acquisition of content; learning happens through the processes of assimilation and accommodation. And once that’s done, once you’ve learned something, now you are ready to be educated. Because learning is different than an education.

Education happens through experiences using the information you’ve learned. Education is the refinement and revision of information so that it can become knowledge. And knowledge is not transmitted; it is co-constructed. It is therefore highly dependent on social context, and I, as your professor cannot provide you with the social contexts you need to become educated. You must determine your position in society, how you use your information, and how through experiences your knowledge becomes wisdom.

That is my challenge for you.