Tag Archives: Professor X

Lifelong Learning – Thinking About Why College, and Lifelong, Ongoing Learning, Really Matter

From Wikipedia:
Lifelong learning is the continuous building of skills and knowledge throughout the life of an individual. It occurs through experiences encountered in the course of a lifetime. These experiences could be formal (training, counseling, tutoring, mentorship, apprenticeship, higher education, etc.) or informal (experiences, situations, etc.)[1] Lifelong learning, also known as LLL, is the “lifelong, voluntary, and self-motivated”[2] pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. As such, it not only enhances social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development, but also competitiveness and employability.

(Hey – somebody needs to add “It comes through disciplined, lifelong reading”)…

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On our blog (and on the other sites for which he writes), Bob Morris is always helping us learn to ask the right questions.  Why?  Because, learning is about finding, and then pursuing, such questions and their answers.

From a terrific, substantive article in the New Yorker, about the current and ongoing debate about “Is a college degree worth it?” (the answer is yes!), we can learn a lot about learning.  The article is Live and Learn:  Why we have college by Louis Menand.  In the article, he draws much from two provocative books, Academically AdriftLimited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, and In the Basement of the Ivory Tower:  Confessions of an Accidental Academic by Professor X  (I’ve posted about this anonymous, adjunct professor/author before).

Here, from the article, is a simple yet challenging moment from a college classroom:

Soon after I started teaching there, someone raised his hand and asked, about a text I had assigned, “Why did we have to buy this book?”

I got the question in that form only once, but I heard it a number of times in the unmonetized form of “Why did we have to read this book?” I could see that this was not only a perfectly legitimate question; it was a very interesting question. The students were asking me to justify the return on investment in a college education. I just had never been called upon to think about this before. It wasn’t part of my training. We took the value of the business we were in for granted.

I could have said, “You are reading these books because you’re in college, and these are the kinds of books that people in college read.” If you hold a certain theory of education, that answer is not as circular as it sounds. The theory goes like this: In any group of people, it’s easy to determine who is the fastest or the strongest or even the best-looking. But picking out the most intelligent person is difficult, because intelligence involves many attributes that can’t be captured in a one-time assessment, like an I.Q. test. There is no intellectual equivalent of the hundred-yard dash. An intelligent person is open-minded, an outside-the-box thinker, an effective communicator, is prudent, self-critical, consistent, and so on. These are not qualities readily subject to measurement…

College was a gate through which, once, only the favored could pass. Suddenly, the door was open: to vets; to children of Depression-era parents who could not afford college; to women, who had been excluded from many of the top schools; to nonwhites, who had been segregated or under-represented; to the children of people who came to the United States precisely so that their children could go to college. For these groups, college was central to the experience of making it—not only financially but socially and personally. They were finally getting a bite at the apple. College was supposed to be hard. Its difficulty was a token of its transformational powers.

This is why “Why did we have to buy this book?” was such a great question. The student who asked it was not complaining. He was trying to understand how the magic worked. I (a Theory 2 person) wonder whether students at that college are still asking it.

You’ll have  to read the article to understand the two theories (“I am a Theory 2 person,” Menand writes).  But the article will help you better understand just why a college education can be, should, and could be so valuable; and when it is done well, definitely provides such very great value to the individual student and to our entire society.

It will also challenge you to genuinely become, and remain, that lifelong learner we hear so much about.  It’s a great read!

For Writing Skills 101 – You Might Have to Start with More Reading

This is prompted by a sad, disturbing piece…

My colleague Karl Krayer has a terrific workshop on writing skills.  Companies hire him to teach their employees how to write clear, understandable emails and memos and reports.  (Have you ever had to read, and re-read, and re-read again, an unclear e-mail?)

Sadly, many of them need a lot of help.

Why?  The short answer is this:  good writing comes from lots and lots of reading, spread out over the course of a human life, starting early, and going on as long as possible.  And most people simply have not put in the time to read in order to learn to write clearly.

(I know a man, a wonderful man now in the twilight of his years, who told me in tears that he simply can no longer see the pages.  He is a lifelong reader, and his failing eyesight is his single greatest loss – because of that love of reading).

There is a sad, disturbing piece by an anonymous adjunct professor at the community college level.  I have read the essay, from the June, 2008 AtlanticIn the Basement of the Ivory TowerThe idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth. An instructor at a “college of last resort” explains why by PROFESSOR X.  And I have read the sample of his book.

Here are a couple of key excerpts in his article:

In each of my courses, we discuss thesis statements and topic sentences, the need for precision in vocabulary, why economy of language is desirable, what constitutes a compelling subject.

My students don’t read much, as a rule, and though I think of them monolithically, they don’t really share a culture. To Kill a Mockingbird? Nope. (And I thought everyone had read that!) Animal Farm? No. If they have read it, they don’t remember it.

Reading simply teaches so much.  Not only does it teach what is found in the content of the writing, but it also teaches how to put thoughts into an understandable order, how to get a message across, how to communicate what is important.  There is no short cut.  Thesis and topic statements, precision in vocabulary, economy of language, compelling subjects – these are modeled, inhaled, and then, with work, learned.

If you need to write better (if your employees need to write better) hire Karl Krayer to help you.

But – you might want to start by reading more.  A lot more.

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(You can contact Karl Krayer, my colleague at the Frist Friday Book Synopsis, on this blog, and in many other ways, through his web site for Creative Communication Network).