Seven years ago, I sat in an Ivy League university auditorium and listened to the dean state, "It is not a college's job to funnel students into a career." His assertion produced grumblings from many parents in the audience who, no doubt, were looking to this prestigious school as a guaranteed path to employment for their children.
Isn't that what we parents deserved after our years of gluing shoebox dioramas, practicing spelling words and attending teacher conferences?
His follow-up comment, however, has echoed in my teaching philosophy ever since: College, above all else, serves the purpose of making us lifelong learners.
Now, as a CMC professor of English composition, I can say that being a lifelong learner is an admirable attribute that we should actively promote in our students and in ourselves.
It is the skill of seeking knowledge on our own, of thinking for ourselves, of being truly autonomous. It encourages our self-confidence in the wake of learning a new skill or pursuing a new career.
Our college experiences are paramount in developing our intellect and analyzation skills while encouraging an independent learning process. Subsequently, our esteem level increases so we can take full advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Ultimately, we feel motivated to undertake new challenges.
I am fortunate to witness this constantly; whenever I have an adult student returning to the educational fold, I see his or her confidence level palpably increase with each small success. These are students who then go on to strive for goals that at one time seemed unattainable, enjoying the process of learning along the way.
We are, by nature, an independent species that has consistently promoted independence in our governance and culture. Therefore, it makes sense that our learning processes should also include methods for autonomous learning based on our classroom experiences.
Therein lies the goal for college teachers across curriculums and age groups: to give our students the skills to learn throughout their lives. It is one thing to practice a subject three hours a week in a class, and another to apply that new knowledge in real-life experiences.
There exists a plethora of subjects to explore for lifelong learning, even if our career paths are already set in stone.
A successful student is presented with resources needed to learn a subject, and then uses those resources for personal gain. Think of learning a new language, cooking a new, international food, composing a piece of writing or understanding economic sustainability.
Practicing these things in real-world scenarios translates into conversing with people outside one's culture, exploring new cuisines, knowing how to compose a cover letter for a job application and incorporating business innovations.
Students, therefore, take responsibility for their education when they merge classroom knowledge into their everyday lives. They become autonomous learners, unafraid to explore new ideas or skills, enticed by the possibilities new knowledge can bring.
Denise Barkhurst teaches English and developmental education courses for Colorado Mountain College.