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Much Ado About Teaching
by Michael Giardina

I always thought that teaching was the effective dissemination of knowledge from teacher to student. That sounds like a fair claim, doesn't it? Unfortunately, our society has complicated teaching into a mystical sort of game.

A few years ago, after reading a class textbook for two hours, I raised my hand and asked a perfectly legitimate question.

"What? Do you think I am here to spoon-feed you information?" my teacher responded.

"No," I said, "I thought you were eye candy for us to look at." Obviously, she wasn't pleased.

What did this lady think her job description was? Our generation attends school to receive an education. As far as I am concerned, the best teachers pack an exorbitant amount of information into your noodle. They do it by being knowledgeable, clear and concise. If that's not spoon-feeding, I don't know what is.

It is a fallacy that students learn better when they have to struggle for the information. When we struggle without adequate direction, we -- as students -- opt to neglect our studies for a fun night of binge drinking and poker antics.

Students at universities shell out tens of thousands of dollars for their college education. Imagine if students actually felt that the knowledge acquired in class was equivalent to the money spent. Students would drop into classes they aren't enrolled in just to beat the system. You could get two educations for the price of one. Guards would have to check IDs at the door to ensure students aren't slipping in for some unpaid knowledge.

This is far from the case. The majority of students harbor lax attendance policies. The system assumes that we are a bunch of lazy, irresponsible young folk, unwilling to dedicate ourselves to the rigors of higher education. Is this true?

What if students skip class because they feel it is a waste of time? Is it possible that society has encouraged teachers to adopt modern forms of teaching that feign specificity and instead encourage a metaphysical "dancing around" the facts?

Class discussions often deteriorate into the flinging of subjective opinions about small bodies of information. Without intensive lecture, I don't feel qualified to voice my opinion. I don't want to hear people discussing their visceral responses to a novel; I want to hear the things that the majority of undergraduates wouldn't immediately pick up on.

Scott Shershow, a professor of English at Davis, has successfully restrained himself from falling into the flowery, pseudo-teaching that is promoted by educational reform. Although his class is very difficult, I can't guess how many hours he spends preparing each lecture. He speaks from start to finish, never stopping, never sounding any less articulate than a written piece of literary criticism.

Perhaps that is the key. When I walk into a class, I want to feel like the teacher actively puts as much effort into teaching as we do into learning. If 70 percent of the class fails a midterm, this is not proof that the students neglected their responsibilities.

Instead, it suggests that the professor did not succeed in conveying the information they attempted to teach. If this is the case, in every lecture, the students didn't understand -- the sign of a poor teacher.

The best professor will make the hardest information easy to absorb. They know what is important. Explain it to us using specifics. Give us keywords, definitions, tools necessary for progress. Every minute we have to hunt for facts or judge significance is a wasted minute of learning. Students are prone toward cynicism and apathy. It is the responsibility of the professor to steal the interest of the students, to persevere as an educator to completion.



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