Please, Sir! I Beg Ooh, Don’t Teach Me New Things
Students’ success in academic and career pursuits hinges on academic preparedness provided by lecturers within the constantly changing terrain of new information. But a palpable, gradual, downward spiral of students’ enthusiasm and students’ receptivity for such new information has been felt in the courses that I teach. Observed erosion of students’ scholarly interest for new information is demonstrated by a broad range of attitudinal dispositions that swings from resigned acceptance through benign contempt and ends all the way in outright hostility. Since such new information are appropriately tailored, in depth and breadth, to fit students’ academic level and are aptly structured to mesh with their career interests, the general student disinterest seem puzzling but remain relevant to national academic concerns. Because each annual increase in the level of scholarly disinterest in rigorous new information has led to a proportionally low students’ academic performance in that course, the evolving scenario has brought with it angst and fears of a broader regression in the established academic climate if remedial steps are not sought. In fact, rigorous new information now have students up in arms! And if ever there was an unspoken chorus of an anthem that epitomizes the battle cry of contemporary students’ academic warfare, it is: “Please sir, I beg ooo! I am just a new student at this level, so please don’t teach me new things.” Steady streams of echoes of this unuttered chorus has reverberated into the walls of my lecture theatres. As an instructor forced to deal with an unacceptable classroom mutiny, it’s been hard to overlook this developing trend and even harder to resist the urge to comment. A clear-eyed commentary on this “new information fatigue” culture must first attempt to restate the role of the university in shaping the minds and the thoughts of students.
More than anything else, Steven Pinkler’s phrase “habit of the mind” is resoundingly apt in its description of university education as: the cultivation of the “habit of the mind.” Learning! Innovation! Creativity! Novelty! Respect and admiration for knowing something; reverence for its transforming ability and appreciation that a better person, irrespective of age, sex, ethnicity and occupational choice has evolved out of the learning experience. Consequently, university education produces more than credentials and careers; it inculcates thinking skills needed for reasoned judgments that are beneficial for problem solving in society and that are transferable to different career paths beyond academic work. Development of critical thinking skills imply that students will still acquire marketable job-oriented skills even in disciplines that are not oriented towards specific vocational paths. In a broad sense, there is no excuse for a university education except the derivation of the joy and the beauty of knowledge in itself and its inevitable culmination in the production of a well-trained vigorous and a dexterous and an energetic mind. But little success has been achieved in attempts to convey to many contemporary students that the university’s “thinking culture” are meant to challenge, unnerve and unmask ones ignorance and that the development of a culture that places continuous adherence on the acquisition and knowledge of new information are key tenets that sustains the “thinking culture.” New information are key to educating a functionally literate citizenry and are critical to the initiation and the sustenance of the pipeline of academically well-rounded students with diverse interests and with expansive academic experiences. Invariably, new information buttresses students’ knowledge base in their chosen field, stretch the borders of current paradigms and lead students to continually question accepted norms. And new information sparks students’ imagination and inspire their interest in ways that will permit them to conceptualize old problems with new approaches.
Students’ attitudinal dislike for rigorous new information, therefore, seem starkly contradictory and utterly counterintuitive to their desired scholarly achievement goals. Students’ visceral antipathy has apprehension about grades as one of its pressing assumptive bases. The fear of poor grades may assert themselves in students psyche in a way that will cause them to operate in a consistent academic panic modes. Together with learning anxiety, self-doubt and uncertainty that commonly accompany entry into uncharted academic landscapes, concern about poor grades may cause students to show varying levels of antipathy to troublesome new information, particularly to those that are not amenable to quick rote memorization. Multiple additional reasons are proffered by students to explain away their benign disinterest but each could be interpreted, in students’ perception, as evidence that courses are getting increasingly tougher, examinations are getting progressively more difficult, new information increasingly rife and lecturers that dish them out are getting blatantly meaner. No the pipeline for the enrollment of highly motivated students has not plateaued nor has the number of students who aspire to be intellectual leaders in their field declined. What has changed, in this context, is the subtle increase in the number of students who want their minds to be coddled with only non-rigorous academic information. Such students desire that teaching and learning centers on the regurgitation of previous level’s academic content so that the path that they traverse in the semester's coursework becomes more predictable and less time- and effort-demanding. But universities risk downgrading the “habit of the mind” customs that forms the foundational edifice of its academic culture if the frivolous desires of such students’ crystalize into practice.
Many lecturers dare to hope that a new day is dawning where students’ entanglements in all extramural activities that compete fiercely with academic work and adversely sap their bubbly energy and deplete their study time will be minimized to enable students devote themselves strenuously and zealously to academic concerns. To accomplish this monumental feat, negative mindset of students about academic pursuit will have to be confronted head-on with motivational talks. Lecture formats must then become combinatorial blend of information that caters to the syllabi and additionally inculcates positive attitudes about academic pursuit. In the long term practical sense, adherents to the “new information culture” may find a time-tested vehicle for intellectual development, may find an avenue for cultivating a flexible mind and, a path for fostering a broad set of knowledge and skills that have transcendent values across multiple disciplines. Ours is a rapidly changing world filled with greater competition and strident appropriation of new information will help students prosper in todays’ dynamic global work environment. New information should then be viewed by students not as one of crisis but as one of opportunity.
Fortunately, most students desire knowledge acquisition at baseline. For all students, lecturers and administrators enthusiastically provides them with supportive environment that allows them to contribute to knowledge and to pursue their academic aspirations. Concentrated focus of students on the merits of continual study of rigorous new information will certainly lead to deep devotion to academic work. Students might then become more than intrigued by new information and their curiosity may lead them to do the surprisingly uncommon thing of asking the lecturer to teach them new things that are desirable but that may not even be part of the course syllabi. “Please sir, teach me new things,” they would say. “Please Sir, I am just a new student that need new information to grow! Will you please, teach me new things,” will become their new mantra. This new mantra will help restore academic excellence to proper centrality in the university and project it as the authoritative norm by which participation in all university activities are to be measured.