As a college professor I am constantly amazed at the lack of knowledge my students seem to have about the natural world or basic geography. They know very little about nutrition and how it affects health both mental and physical. Most of my students, as I teach in an open enrollment, community college show up because the classes are cheap and they have heard that they need a college education. They often lack tech skills, the basis for professional communication and they really don’t have experience working with others to accomplish a large task. To many, science and math isn’t a way to understand the world, as much as they are abstract subjects in school that seem boring and difficult.
In this environment, I teach courses in leadership and career development but mainly I teach a course called “Introduction to the College Experience” where I teach them the skills to be college students. Every semester I struggle to have them practice behaviors they need to be successful. During the course, they will tell me how the course is “common sense” but in the following semesters, they come back and tell me that they now know what I am teaching and why it was important. In one sense that is rewarding and in another I feel like Sysiphus rolling the rock uphill only to watch it fall back.
Most of my students have grown up in urban environments with limited access to the natural world and a school system that is addicted to standardized testing. I want to see them connect with learning beyond a simple assignment or a course with a grade. So I have been organizing activities to create a campus garden which is edible. I want them to have fruit from their labors quite literally. I want them to learn the skills associated with work and time and delayed gratification. I want them to connect to science and math. I want learning to have a purpose. I want them to feel empowered to set the course of their own lives that they can be leaders and business owners not just employable. I see so many benefits to that kind of thinking.
We often tell people with no boots to pull themselves up by the straps. I see it as more insidious than telling those with no boots to pull themselves up. I see us telling people to borrow money to pay for boots of dubious quality and years to put together only to find that they don’t fit or they are the wrong shoes, but we’re still going to make young people finance those boots.
Students should have skills and feel empowered by their learning. They should know how to make or build or communicate or promote or sell what they have done. They should learn to create value. But they don’t and it frustrates me.