I've been pondering this question lately. Knowledge, unlike physical stuff, accumulates without taking up any space--and is, therefore, easy to forget about. I would like to believe, that is, that it is just forgotten about and not actually lost. But I know that is a dream.
As I approach my semi-significant birthday (or that year in which I have to accept, once and for all, that I am an adult :(), I can't help but think back to how I have spent my 20s. What have I been doing? By and large, the answer is easy: I have been sitting in class. So I thought it would be fun if, over the next week or so, I reminisced a bit about my educational history. With ten years of class sitting behind me, I should know a lot of stuff, right? I wish. Really, knowledge accumulation is on my mind lately because I am feeling that tinge of conscience that says: You should be pretty good at this by now... so what's the problem?
In 1997 (I know this is a bit more than 10 years ago, but this is where it starts) I enrolled at Pima Community College in Tucson. That first semester in school, I don't recall exactly what my plan was--or if I even had one. I just knew that I needed to take some general courses and so I enrolled in some general courses. I took Writing 101, Western Civ 101, and Sociology 101. My writing instructor was a very quiet woman--and though I did well in the class, I wasn't particularly inspired--certainly I didn't think: "I think this is what I would like to do as a part of my own career." Western Civ was taken as a part of a history or liberal arts requirement. The class was simple. All I remember of the instructor was that he was he looked like Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller's Day Off and said the word "modernity" a lot. I enrolled in sociology because my dad's BA and MS (MA?) were in Sociology and I kind of considered myself a chip off that block, so maybe I would be into it. My instructor was a part-time teacher, full-time biker, often wore leather to class (oh--and don't forget the Harley doo-rag) and had a long bushy beard. I remember that when he spoke, I thought that the stuff he said was smart. His biker-ness gave him a certain down to earth approach to teaching that I liked.
But I remember nothing knowledge-wise from that first semester. I would wager that I forgot it all the moment that the final test was done. Granted, my mind was on other things. Second semester wasn't much different. Writing 102 also failed to make much of an imprint on me, I took Western Civ 102 from the same instructor for the easy A and also took an intro to guitar class so that I could get some practical knowledge to go along with the self-taught stuff. Again, nothing really stuck. I read Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" for the first of what would be dozens of times and wrote a final paper comparing my favorite Bradbury novels, Something Wicked this Way Comes and Dandelion Wine.
This first year is significant for a number of reasons, though. First--it represents one of the sad truths about post-secondary education: most of it doesn't sink in, is taken just to pass, and is quickly discarded. At least it was for me, but I have a hunch that I am not alone. Granted, I was at a community college. My instructors were likely underpaid adjunct faculty. None of them were really trained to inspire or guide students in one particular direction or another. Student apathy mixed with good ol' 18-year-old ignorance and garnished, perhaps, with consumer culture ideologies makes education another thing to be purchased, used, and then discarded. Knowledge gathering is barely on the radar and therefore is rarely, at first (if ever), a priority. It is ironic that I am now on the other side of the desk, so to speak. I teach students with similar ideologies. Most are in my 103 an 104 classes just to pass-- to check it off--and why shouldn't they? Why should I expect them to be any different than I was? Because this is a major university and that was just a community college? I don't like that argument. But still, in a culture where education is consumed instead of accumulated and guarded, introduction classes are the most disposable of all, are they not? And while I now realize the importance of the knowledge to be gained in the introductory course--indeed, I am a practitioner of it, my students likely don't/won't/can't.
So part of me wants to blame this consumerism ideology on my difficulty with accumulating or "laying up in store" the knowledge that I desire and now need to be successful in my field. I know it is more complicated than that... but its got me wondering about how I might subvert the tendency as I approach my own students and teaching. Can they be taught to care more about what they know? I don't know.
Stay tuned for the next chapter: "Two Associates Degrees, or How to Waste your Time Expensively with Little to Nothing to Show for It"