“And Drink Their Words With Thirst”: Have We Lost the Art of Being Students?

Posted on October 12, 2011 by


Note: This article is a direct response to the claim that “Professors are our employees”, contextually implying that they are there to cater to us, let us soap-box our fancies, and give us a pat on the back at the end of the day. This is wrong.

Products of the Information Age

This is not news: we live in the information age, a time in which information is free and ubiquitous. What was once the greatest source of power is now impotent. If to be an expert is to know everything about a subject, then for all intents and purposes, we are all experts.

Thus, information alone is now largely irrelevant; what’s cool is analysis. We need to link that information together and create conceptions. We need application. We need context for all the content. But how do we do this?

I believe the potency of ideas will return with the rise of an educational revolution, when we will recognize that power is not mechanical people but rather developed people. This can only happen through a reinvention and deeper understanding of what it means to be a student, where we are inspired to see the world differently because of our authentic evolution and growth as people.

Twilight of the Idols

We are all atheists. We have sacrificed the idols on the alter of self-identity. But is that a good thing? Don’t we need gods to tower above us and give us objectivity? Our own subjective worlds dominate our analysis and perspective, creating a narrow self-manipulated reality. What is truly important is what we make important, rather than allowing ourselves to tap into something of a higher nature. We live in a status-update word, where we expect people to listen, when we ourselves are deaf.

An education is the natural combustion-like outcome of the intensity of a teacher-student relationship. For this to occur, I think we need role models. People who command our respect and are able to inspire through the power we give their ideas. We need something to aim for, to know that greatness exists and is attainable, and yet to be aware that there are places we will never be able to venture ourselves, and we need to rely on the genius of a mentor to expose and take us to these places of wonder.

Seeing the world through something greater does not mean sacrificing your own personal identity in the face of something “greater”; we generally refer to that as a cult. Rather, it means allowing your identity to evolve and develop, by plugging into something big. We are not employers or customers, we are students.

Becoming a Talmid

I would like to identify the three elements of being a student as follows:

  1. Identify expertise, link passions – Know that there are people who are masters of certain domains. Find someone who is greater than you in an area you are passionate about and let that person guide you to mastery.
  2. Lose the ego – Being a student means constantly learning and growing. Growing is painful. Seeing things from a new angle, sometimes understanding why you are wrong, and perhaps hardest of all, changing, are all part of this process.
  3. Let yourself be inspired – Inspiration is a two way street. Two people can be exposed to the same circumstance and to one it is a lecture and to the other it is a lesson.

Some of us come to university to party. Some come to find ourselves. Some come for an education. What ever the impetus, the only asset that the institution can provide us is the impact of the personalities it provides. Tacitus is dead, but Ronald Mellor is not. The Holocast is history, but Saul Friedlander is today. Numbers are dreams, but Terrence Tao is reality. We were once dead, but now have the opportunity to grow.

Do we live in a teacher-less society? Do we allow ourselves to be taught?

Discuss. Lapin out.

Cartoon provided by Randal Munroe – XKCD.com