Every semester I have a laundry list of things that I want my students to learn. My courses are in religious studies, religious history, and philosophy (undergraduate and graduate), so there is never a shortage of challenges for my students. Regardless of the class, these three below are part of my guiding philosophy of teaching and will—if applied consistently—add dimension to your life.
1) There is nothing wrong with being wrong.
There is never a semester without students questioning me and I’m fine with that. At the risk of sounding like a clichéd hippie, please question me. Question the other professors. Question your texts.
You should also learn to question yourself.
There are moments when the questions no longer appear to be for testing the veracity of an idea. At that moment, questions become tools for deflection, intended to protect the questioner from facing the possibility of being wrong. It is OK to be wrong. I’ve been wrong many times. So by all means question me and everything else. But don’t do it simply to protect yourself from the answers.
2) Don’t be afraid of reading.
As every professor knows, students will always complain about reading; this book is too long, too difficult, has too many big words, too many footnotes (true story), or says things I don’t like. Students have refused to read an historian who was gay, or were angered because they had to read about feminist literary theories, or essays in higher criticism. (As if pretending these don’t exist makes them go away.)
Emily Dickinson wrote:
“There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away.”
Books are there to expose you to new places, people, and ideas. They are your opportunity to find new interlocutors (Google it) or to test the validity of your current thinking. Read. Read everything. Read it joyfully. And remember the quote questionably attributed to Mark Twain:
“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”
3) Writing is not an assignment; it is part of being human.
This is higher education, so you should expect to write and rewrite. Writing is breathing. It is an essential part of thinking. It is an opportunity to take your discoveries and process them coherently. There are discoveries that can only happen when you attempt to put them in a complete sentence. Yes, it is difficult to write. We all know that. But to paraphrase Twain:
“The person who doesn’t write has no advantage over the one who can’t.”
Embrace these realities of higher education and you’ll be better off. Cs get degrees, as the saying goes, but if you’re the same person at graduation that you were when you started the program, then you’ve failed.