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Let’s Make This Interesting

March 30, 2011

Does anyone remember a movie called “Accepted?”  It came out in 2006 and was instantly deemed a classic (just kidding, Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 36%).  So while the film critics might not have loved Accepted, it somehow made its way into my mind as i was reading some of the blogs and thinking about the Mill readings.

In Mill’s “On Liberty”, he talks extensively about thought and discussion, and how we as society should treat those differing opinions that exist throughout the world.  Mill’s approach was very forward thinking, and he encouraged open acceptance and discussion of alternate viewpoints as a way of enhancing intellect.  He even went so far as to say that silencing unique or different viewpoints robs “the human race, posterity as well as the existing generation.”

So, after reading Mill’s opinion on liberty of expression my immediate thought was “how does this relate to me?”  Well, i’m a student at a university, and a large chunk of my time is spent listening to other people tell me what they think about certain issues.  In addition, most schools pride themselves on having diverse course options as well as a diverse group of professers, so that students may be exposed to and challeged by new ways of thinking.

Ok, lets bring it back to the movie.  For those who didn’t see it, basically the movie is about a kid who doesn’t get in to any of the colleges he applied to and decides to go ahead and start his own school (the South Harmon Institute of Technology.)  One of the more central characters in this movie is the actor Lewis Black.  His role is that of the crazy professor that they hire to run the school.  The crazy professor is disillusioned with the current methods of teaching, and decides to teach by giving kids his crazy viewpoint on whatever they want to learn about.  In the end the college review board decides to let the school continue to operate because this unconventional method seems to be working.

Here’s where i try to bring this full circle.  First day of lecture: Professor Laveque-Manty tells us there will be no exams, which makes us feel pretty good.  Why no exams?  Because he feels that the standard educational requirement of examinations is not worthwhile.  Now lets start thinking about our professors.  As i said before, the university prides itself on having a school full of diverse people, opinions, and thoughts.  I would say that the university thinks it is doing a pretty good job of hiring professors who will uphold the Millsian ideal of encouraging discussion and examination of issues.  However, i think the school has a very vanilla set of professors by Mill’s standards.  There are not many classes that i walk out of saying, “man, what that professor said was totally wrong but i’m glad he reminded me of why i think what i think.”  No, we get the right professors with the “right” ways of thinking who say the right things.  Mills really made me question our education system and whether or not its time to spice things up a little bit.  Its an interesting thought, and although it might not make much practical sense, our education and the diversity of thoughts we are exposed to is something both Mill and i value very much.

  1. Jeff DeClaire permalink
    March 31, 2011 1:34 PM

    For one, I think you bring up a very interesting comparison between the move “Accepted” and real-life scenarios. As you said, it also made me question our educational system and how things work. For instance, one exam or standardized test can ultimately determine whether we get into a certain school or get the job we want. It seems as if teachers nowadays put way too much emphasis on exams. In the real world, how often are you going to take a written or multiple choice test for your job? Yes, the exams “test” your knowledge on the subject, but they do not always test how well you can apply the concepts. I think it is time for teachers to be more open and willing to have more things than just exams, such as oral presentations and group projects (as we have in this class). In most careers, people will be working in groups and with other people, so it is necessary to learn how to collaborate and succeed as a group. There are too few classes with that vital aspect.

  2. John D'Adamo permalink
    March 31, 2011 2:27 PM

    You know, if I was Professor Lavaque-Manty, I’d be pretty pumped that you compared him to Lewis Black, one of the funniest comedians in the history of ever. On a more general note, however, I enjoyed the comparison between “Accepted” and this class because I agree with the Professor’s philosophy that tests are overly weighted and not the best way to show an understanding of the material. Oral presentations and group projects, like Jeff mentioned, are some great ways to show this, as is blogging, which is why I tend to be on the blog so much. The amount of creativity this blog has gone through since I joined in January is absolutely awe-inspiring: discussion of new ways of teaching this class incorporating Eastern thinkers, comparisons to both popular culture and life experiences, the latest post on North Quad, poems, and much more. I’m so glad there are many ways in which one can express their learning in this class, it makes everything much more worthwhile than if there were a few exams and papers like in many other classes. Like Jeff said, it’s time for professors to realize the opportunities out there, and that tests are just one of many ways to gauge learning in a course.

  3. Anna Gwiazdowski permalink
    March 31, 2011 3:24 PM

    I didn’t realize until the first day of class that Professor Lavaque-Manty didn’t have exams. To be honest, I feel like I am able to retain more information and material when I don’t have to take a dreaded 50% weighted exam. If more professors took this approach, I feel college students in general would learn a lot more, because they would spend less time worrying about the grade they receive.

    That being said, I really enjoyed your post. I think your bit about spicing things up would make classes quite interesting. It might even force students to think outside of the box and question what they are being taught, vs., well most of the time anyway, knowing that much of what we are being taught is, as you say “right.”

  4. Emily Slaga permalink
    April 1, 2011 9:06 AM

    Obviously, I agree with you that this class, Polisci 101, is different than some of the other introductory classes at this university, and like John D’Adamo said, blogging is one of the most helpful ways I’m learning in this class.
    But I don’t think that, besides this one class, the school is lacking in diverse teaching methods. One of my classes, Extreme Weather, is full of surprises. 10% of the our grade is for ‘common good’ which is earned by doing things like donating blood to the Red Cross. My professor is teaching us to be better people by having us do things like this, which I haven’t had to do in another class. He’s teaching beyond the class subject, teaching us to be real people, not just selfish, studious, college kids.
    This is just one small example of a professor who does things a little differently. I’m sure that there’s plenty of them who teach in creative ways or try to make you learn something more than what’s in the course description. But I agree, most of the courses here are focused too heavily on exams.

  5. alexqhe permalink
    April 3, 2011 4:46 AM

    I know I’m going against the grain here, but I think that everyone that’s posted in here so far is overgeneralizing the issue to fault. While I appreciate what Professor Lavaque-Manty is doing and his take on how the school system should be reworked, I don’t think that his system is for everybody.

    We all learn differently, and what works for Brian might not work for Anna, and what works for Anna definitely does not work for me. Personally, I learn the best by reading from a textbook, as I consider myself a visual learner with a good memory. And while reading pages upon pages from a textbook is probably considered the most boring way to learn, at least for me, I soak up information by reading it in a way that no other type of teaching can come close to comparing to. Group projects, lectures, Powerpoints, and presentations all feel like busywork to me — for the most part, at any rate.

    I don’t get what all the hate for exams is, either. I like to take exams and to write essays. There’s merit in the school system of today, which is why it’s been in place for ages. People are always saying that the exam system which is so heavily focused on grades is a faulty system, but for whatever reason, they’re always unable to come up with a better system backed up with research that proves that kids learn more under such a revised system.

    I guess a good portion of it has to deal with the type of class as well. I can’t see a class like Economics or Calculus being graded on anything other than exams, while a class like Political Science has much more potential for interaction and discussion. Objective versus subjective, I suppose. But it’s folly to say that every class needs to be spiced up.

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