The more I think about it the more I am convinced that we’ve totally gone nuts. I used to be less hysterical. In one of my courses, we spend a lot of time not just lecturing but also discussing various ideas, and do our best to engage in something of a Socratic way of learning materials. Indeed, in the early part of this course there aren’t really specifics that I am trying to teach, but rather to get students to get excited about the topic, to be engaged with the topic, and to begin to appreciate what makes for good and sincere learning versus poppycock, to appreciate and understand what a good explanation is (even if wrong), and to develop an interest in asking questions about what we know.
In the midst of this, I’ve been asked more than once something to the effect of, “I’m actually a visual learner, so I am, having trouble following you.”
First the usual caveats: I am a pretty crappy teacher if I had to say so myself, so for the time being can we get that possibility out of the way. I am pretty sure this question comes up in the classes of better teachers too. And also, this part of what I am teaching makes no sense to provide visuals for, and if I did come up with them, I’d waste too much class time on them only to show some hokey diagrams that are not the essence of what I am trying to get through.
OK, so my view of the world is that no one really approaches us in real life with prepackaged, ready to handle questions. Life would surely be easier that way. The point of college in my view is to prepare us for an outside world where the unexpected occurs and where we have to think on our feet to get by and contribute. My life would be innumerably easier if I did not believe this and act on it. I think this is particularly the case when it comes to economics. How many times are we confronted with a question or problem in the world in a canned, visual way? And how often are you going to have success whipping out a napkin to draw a diagram to explain what you really mean to someone? I would politely suggest that the answer is not even “rarely” but closer to “never.” The “joy” of life and learning is to know how to use the varied and disparate tools at our disposal to deal with myriad unforeseeable problems.
And now onto the comment about visual learning. Where have we gone wrong? Are we spending all of our time in K12 schools evaluating kids on the types of learners they are? It feels like it. And in this regard I have sympathy for public school teachers. Yes, I said that. Because I am SURE that if there are efforts to identify different types of learners, then teachers are going to be required to redo their lesson plans X times over in order to meet the X different learning styles of their students. I can only imagine how this then works itself out when there are students with serious disabilities in the class. So, now our Math teachers instead of teaching the fundamentals of math, have to craft the lesson on how to tell time in a way that makes it easy for visual learners, then for other types of learners (such as?). This is simply nuts. Once we do this, it’s only a matter of time before we start diagnosing kids learning tendencies as, “I’m a strong language learner,” or ,” not a good history learner,” and then what happens to what we are trying to teach in school?
This is not a blog on education, but the prior paragraph needs many pages of expansion. But my point is, we coddle and nestle kids up in their “learning styles” and then they show up utterly unprepared for a college classroom, and certainly unprepared for life after college. So imagine that I figure out some way to teach epistemology with graphs and charts and movies, I am sure it exists, then we have the student NEVER learn to succeed in the things he is not good at, and NEVER learn to feel the pressure of an uncomfortable situation. What happens when this person is an attorney and the opponent in trial is kicking butt with logical arguments. Will he stand up and “object!” because he was not given a more visual view of the witness examination by the other attorney? Or what about when someone asks him why he named his dog Fluffy? Does he draw a picture?
It sounds harsh, but this is really only scratching the surface of what I am perceiving to be problems. Remember, I am seeing the upper-crust of students and families, and am seeing things that would shock you. Indeed, I am recovering at this very moment from reading an e-mail that asks me, “are the course readings part of the course?” And this one on the heels of another question that asked me, “what are this week’s readings?” What’s wrong with that question? Well it was written to me as a Reply to Sender on a message that was sent out to all students telling them what the weekly readings were.
And if I started to tell you … wait, I have to stop now.