I Will Be Serving Flounder

You wouldn’t know it from the quantity of my summer posts, but I am still alive.

I will be teaching a freshman course for the first time in 13 years, so I think often of how they are different from the sophomores, juniors, and seniors I usually teach. An Op-Ed in today’s Boston Globe by Boston College professor Carlo Rotella titled Advice for the College Freshman captured my attention, particularly this paragraph:

Hit the marks, but find opportunities to flounder purposefully. A number of tendencies in child rearing these days, chief among them the predominance of coaching and lessons and other formal instruction, make for kids coming out of high school who are terrifically good at hitting the marks. A teacher tells them what to do and how to do it, they do it and get praise for it (because positive reinforcement really works), the teacher gives them something a little more advanced to do, and so on. This is great, on balance, but the price of all that coachability is that students are often not as comfortable when learning in an open-ended, less-guided style. College is a good place to do both . . .

Amen. Many of my assignments are open-ended and I prefer free-ranging give-and-take discussions to structured lectures. Students across the achievement spectrum can drift aimlessly if they are not told exactly what to do and how to do it. It’s not enough to be smart, to implement someone else’s concept perfectly, to shade your performance to satisfy someone else’s expectations.

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