The Big Learn


I am riskier these days.  I have a political blog.  I am adding networking as a coequal ingredient to my comp/research class. I am way outside the bounds of the norm with a very liquid syllabus, an exploded idea about what the products of a research comp course can be, and a hard push to get my students to value curiosity over strategy.

As Taleb says above, “School will never teach you how to stand & take risks for your beliefs,”  but I bet teachers can show their students how to begin to do it.  That’s my theory anyway.  That’s my attempted practice. But, as the cowboy says in “The Big Lebowski”,

Yesterday, I ran into a bear.

I work at a regional university.  In a relatively poor state like Kentucky that means that we don’t have a good research library (it ain’t bad either) or lots of PhD programs (we have two) or academic reputation.  We accept almost everyone who applies, we struggle mightily to keep folks in school, and students are stretched thither and yon just to survive and learn. Friday was one of those days where only half the students came.  Every class was the same. Big holes.

I asked those who came, “Where is everybody?”  They shruggeth and say, “It’s Friday.”  Others say with not a whit of sarcasm, “Yeah, it’s the Friday before Spring Break.”  Really?  Were my students already leaving for Spring Break.

Look at all the cool stuff I brought along to share.

How dare they not come and partake of the feast I have prepared for them! How dare they indeed. How dare I, in fact, assume that my classroom was a feast day in some very weird university liturgical calendar and that it had to stay fixed. As Hemingway argued: life has to be a movable feast, it has to have many courses.

I dare me. I dare you. I dare us.


  1. // Reply

    There was a moment
    when I was the
    last student standing …
    the teacher long gone
    and so were the other students:
    the weekend beckoning,
    and there was this silence descending,
    so I stopped to listen to the learning
    of all that might have happened
    or never did happen
    or maybe might yet still happen
    with the chalkboard, empty and washed,
    and the computer gone cold and dead,
    but my mind remained alive with

    PS — a poem of a different sort from what I left in the other version of your post. Different space, different mindset, different poem …

  2. // Reply

    I disagree with the statement “School will never teach you how to stand & take risks for your beliefs.” I think there is hope in some pockets. My son is currently a junior at a small (2500-student) liberal arts university. A couple of his experiences stick out.

    One was his intro to engineering class (an engineer he is NOT), in which the grand finale was an exposition of larger-than-life “things” the students designed and built. His team’s product was somewhat of a disaster, not representing the imagined idea very well. Nonetheless, he received an A+ in the class, because of the creativity and thinking that went into the team’s work.

    A second example is a literary criticism class he took (a reader and writer he IS), in which his point of view diverged GREATLY from the professor’s rhetoric. He soon discovered that she welcomed other viewpoints, and was open to discussing the opinions and ideas he and other students raised.

    So, there is hope. And, with our continued effort, that hope will become reality.

    1. // Reply

      First, thank you for responding.

      Second, I cannot say for certain, but the spirit of play and creativity that your son exhibits was given free and happy rein at his school, but…I doubt he learned it there. I say doubt because I do not presume to know where he learned it. That sentence uses the same rhetorical flourish that Antony uses in his funeral speech. I do not think these teachers so much taught him to take risk so much as recognized it.

      Third, what I am trying to do in my class is to be the same kind of teacher that you laud here. It is not so much what the teachers do or say or applaud that makes the difference, for me it is what they see and encourage and amplify. So often what I see is a dampening of the spirit of play and risk and toeing onto the edge of what they know.

      The quote is from Nicholas Taleb. He is referring to a different kind of knowing unlike the status quo content. If what we teach is only what we already know, then what we learn can only be put to use in the past. Not very handy. Only he can stand and take the risk to learn and stand for his own beliefs.

      Of course, I could be wrong. Always, I could be wrong.

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