Lisa A. Kramer

Author, Speaker, Theater Artist, Creativity Facilitator

Dear Students: The Power of Learning Even When You Disagree

[caption id="attachment_8349" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Giving instructions at a theatre workshop Giving instructions at a theatre workshop[/caption]

Dear Students (Parents, Administrators, and People in General),

I have been an educator for a long time now.  I have taught in all kinds of classrooms, to people of all ages.  I have taught many subjects and in many different styles of teaching. I have taught formally on college  campuses, and informally in after school programs or workshops. I have taught theatre, writing, ESL, honors, research, education and even Hebrew School. I think that I grew up teaching, and have never stopped.

I love teaching in many ways. I am always inspired by those moments when someone's eyes are opened to new  ideas. I relish polite debate. I thrive on helping students overcome personal challenges--even ones they didn't know they had.  I cherish those moments when a student discovers a new talent, a new passion, or simply the idea that they can do something they never thought they could. I love the sense of community that can come as a group of learners come together and discover new, interesting, challenging things.

But, more and more often lately I find myself wanting to quit.

Some of you may have heard about the high school teacher in New Mexico who resigned over a controversy in her creative writing class. According to an article in the Albuquerque Journal:
"The district said the student’s story was not the administrators’ primary concern.

'We would note that the primary concerns raised with Ms. Guarascio were not focused on the written product produced by students but on other issues, including the fact that students were required to read other students’ essays and comment on content they found objectionable,' read a statement issued by the district.
Anyone who has ever taught writing, or written anything themselves knows that peer review helps you become a better writer.  Just as in a drama classroom students learn from observing and critiquing each other's work, writers and readers benefit from reading work written by their peers.  Part of becoming a more educated person is learning how to evaluate and define good work vs. bad, or to question ideas and arguments for their validity, or to recognize stylistic differences that make the world a varied and interesting place. An unwillingness to even look at something that disturbs you, or to share your own work, limits one's ability to learn.

Yet more and more lately, I am running into people who simply don't want to learn, don't want to take responsibility for how they learn, or don't want to expand their understanding.  During just this past semester I've had students who:
  • Never read a single thing for my class, or never opened their mouths during class.
  • Objected to seeing a play for my seminar (Creative Rebellion: Gender, Women and the Arts), because they don't like theatre and because the play dealt with some sensitive topics about sexuality, gender, and power. Rather than asking themselves why I might want them to see such challenging material, they complained because they had to (even though I arranged free tickets for all of them).
  • Complained because I asked them to share a poster project in a community event (this poster project was an option) because they "don't like sharing their work."
  • Complained because they didn't see the sense of doing any research, or of education in general. "Anything you need to know you can Google." {While I agree this is true, learning to discern quality sources takes practice.}
  • Decided they didn't want to attend the (required) final project presentation day because they didn't like the day it was on and didn't care about seeing anyone else's work.
  • Put minimum effort into my class, and then sent me an email asking that I give him a C just because he didn't expect to do poorly, has never had below a C before, and is a busy student and a mentor for his baseball team.
In the past I've had:
  • Parents contact me because they didn't think their son/daughter should get a low grade in my courses.
  • Coaches contact me to give their athletes a break so that they could continue playing.
  • Administrator's override my grades.
It seems to me that everyone is missing the point. Education should not be about grades, test scores, or appearances. It shouldn't be about whining and complaining your way into getting what you want. It shouldn't be about threatening a teacher you don't like, or forcing someone to resign because you disagree with them.

Education should be about:
  • challenging and questioning ideas
  • learning about differing opinions and how to respond to them in polite constructive ways.
  • discovering different ways of looking at the world
  • embracing the fact that we all don't think/look/act alike
  • trying things that are outside your comfort zone, because maybe they will bring you to new understandings
  • interacting with people you may never have met, and learning from them
  • challenging yourself and others
I am the first to admit that the education system (in all grade levels including colleges and universities) is broken in some ways.  I freely admit that college is not the answer for everyone, and that learning can happen anywhere. Sometimes learning out in the world is more powerful than in the classroom. But, the classroom is (or should be) an environment where learning and challenging ideas can be safe.

All the instructor can do is create the environment and guide the learning--we cannot make you learn.We can offer our expertise, support, knowledge and ideas--but we cannot force you to open your heart and mind to those ideas.  We cannot force you to open your books, do your reading, try your best. At a college level, we cannot force you to come to class or attend exams (even if that is part of your grade). We cannot force you to care.

There are so many places in this world where people (especially women) are denied access to any education. Why is that? There is a backlash against scientific knowledge in the United States. Why is that? There are constant battles in the US over who controls education--with many arguing that it should not be in the hands of the teachers but bureaucrats who control it like a business. Why is that? There is animosity towards education from many fronts. Why is that?

It is because learning, knowledge, and education are power. Ideas can change the world.  Education is an equalizer--because ideas and knowledge can be gained even without money.  (Although money, at least at this point, can buy a better education).

Think about that. Knowledge is power. When you are unwilling to learn or expand your ideas, you are letting others have the power.

My goal as an educator has always been about empowering my students, but lately that goal has been tested. The more I run into students who would rather complain than work, argue than question, whine than try, negotiate than learn--the more I think why should I do this anymore? Why try to encourage people to learn when they don't want to learn?

I think more and more teachers are reaching that point nowadays--so schools lose talented and creative people because we are tired of fighting against a world that undervalues learning.

Students, ultimately education is in your hands. You decide if you want to learn and grow. If you do, then there are talented people out there willing and able to help you every step of the way. If you don't really want to learn then don't waste your professor's time. Don't beg us for grades. Don't ask us to make exceptions to accommodate your schedule. Don't put in no effort and then expect reward. The power of education is in your hands . . . what are you going to do with it?

Sincerely, Dr. Lisa A. Kramer


Read more about empowering yourself and others in P.O.W.ER.

For each book sold, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to causes that support women and children around the world.