This article originally appeared in the spring 2016 Harker Quarterly.
I am a reformed academic. And it is springtime. Shortly, I hope to show how these two statements are related.
First, regarding the academic statement: I believe in students learning academic content from a teacher who is a subject matter expert and who loves children. I want students to graduate knowing the difference between compose and comprise, what moves a demand curve, why we might need to find the derivative of an equation, the structure of DNA, the principle causes of the Great Depression and how to conjugate verbs in another language.
Nothing warms my heart more than when a student in class asks an extremely nuanced, insightful question like, “Is synesthesia a physical or psychological phenomenon?”
Yes, I believe in problem-solving and critical thinking, but I believe these skills rest on a solid foundation of academic knowledge. I believe it is folly to say that students only need to know how “to think” because they can Google everything else. Without context and background knowledge about the Civil War or photosynthesis, how does a student know what to Google in the first place?
And it is springtime. How is spring related to being an academic? I can explain with the help of a Zen poem: “In the landscape of spring, there is neither better nor worse. The flowering branches grow naturally, some long, some short.” Does that clear things up?
Now that it is spring, flowers, trees, everything is starting to bloom. Each blooms at its own pace, some early, some late. Do we judge the early bloomers, the flowers in full bloom, as superior? The flowers and branches that have yet to fully bloom – are they inferior?
Back to academics. I came relatively late to academics. In my junior year in high school, I began to work hard because someone told me I had to go to college and I’d better prepare.
I started to fall in love with poetry and calculus. Who knew? Interestingly enough, the love followed the hard work – not the other way around. And the work followed the fear of not being prepared for college. So I owe my being an academic to fear. But that fear quickly turned into love and no one, not even I, could have predicted it would happen.
When will the students among us bloom? Does everyone have to bloom by the age of 14? 18? How many blooms does a lifetime get? Students, like flowers, need good soil, nurturing, sunlight and sometimes a stick in the ground for structure, but their blooming is unpredictable, even by the student.
We cannot be judgmental if a student hasn’t bloomed yet. Neither can we force a blooming when it is not yet time. Nor should we have preconceived notions about when or how a blooming will happen. Flowering branches grow naturally, some long and some short.
I am a reformed academic. And it is springtime. Who knew exactly how or when either would happen? We have ideas about when these things will happen. But reality has its own ideas, and they spring forth wonderfully and unpredictably all the time. Some long, some short.