Monday, March 5, 2018

“If You Can’t Drive, Ride Shotgun: A Student Guide to Survival” by Tyrone Behari Jnr

In order to complete driver’s education, students must not only learn the traffic code to pass a written theory exam, but in addition, they have to display practical driving proficiency and exhibit proof of their skills to pass a road test.  In order to prepare for this, in-car driving lessons are taken where the student is either driving, or in the front passenger seat (shotgun) observing the instructor drive.  One place a student is never situated is in a backseat of the car.

Typically, people would say that they are endeavoring to “learn how to drive,” as opposed to phrasing it perhaps more simply as trying to “get a driver’s license.”  Where the education industry is concerned, it would appear that things are quite the contrary—“students educate themselves in pursuit of a degree instead of in the pursuit of learning” (Parker par. 2).  Different to an aspiring driver, a student is likely to say that they are going to “get a degree,” as opposed to “learn how to be a [insert desired profession here].”  Herein, we discover the problem where career training within the education industry is concerned: there is a backseat, passenger culture. 

It has become increasingly common for students to simply recycle, regurgitate and reproduce information that they are given in class onto assignments and exams simply to meet a pass grade and obtain their bachelor’s degree.  The professor drives the metaphorical car (teaching the class), while students stay in the backseat and simply wait to arrive at the end of the journey (course).  There is little to no chance for the student to show gumption; they assume the role of a nodding dog car accessory.  As students, it makes little sense to simply go from A to B.  “You do not play a sonata in order to reach the final chord, and if the meanings of things were simply in ends, composers would write nothing but finales” (Watts).  Good musicians ought to understand the journey of the music; otherwise, they will never truly appreciate or fully comprehend the beauty of the final sound.  Likewise, an ideal student should not simply try to pass exams and make good papers.  They should go through a myriad of other benefitting experiences along the way, such as further reading and group discussion, which help shape submitted work even if not directly referenced.  With every assignment, there is great insight to be grasped along the way.  Students should dread being like receptacles, having a brain filled to capacity yet not possessing genuine understanding (Freire). 

Typically, the professor is put upon a figurative pedestal, where the classroom is their court, and they are the judge and jury.  They adopt the role of the Big Chief, while also being lucky enough to simultaneously hold the position of Dean of Discipline (Gordon).  The paternalism that ran colonialism, runs the classroom (Freire).  Once within such an environment, the easiest option is to submit.  Herein, the student is fully immersed within the “edu-cage-tion machine” (Brookes); trapped, sentenced until the end of the semester.  Correction---the subsequent semesters will only have difference chiefs---the student is sentenced until graduation. 

Where grading is concerned, the bell curve system of which most professors follow, immediately limits students, shackles and all.  Why is the system so intent on having the majority of students tacitly labelled “average,” simply one of the crowd, hovering between a B and C- grade? Why can’t there be more than, say, five A grades in a class?  Surely, such an environment would be indispensable and much more beneficial at large.  Just picture classmates universally working with one another as they know that they can all receive an A if it is deserved.  Collaboration would be encouraged, and that only pays dividends due to the fact that an individual’s horizons are broadened when working with peers.  One’s empathy would be encouraged, which can only be a good thing due to the strength that possessing people skills and moral development holds within education. 

In Roksa and Arum’s “Life After College,” a study found that students who had substantial levels of peer-to-peer interaction while at college adjusted into vocational life with greater ease (Roksa and Arum).  It is said that 80-85% of career success is dependent on social (soft) skills, while only 15-20% is dependent on technical (hard) skills.  Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development shows that there is a strong relationship between moral development and level of education (Kohlberg).  It would appear that the education industry as a whole currently falls within a pre-conventional morality (namely due to self-interest orientation).  According to Kohlberg, this stage should be outgrown during childhood!  With an empathetic, peer-orientated style of learning, students would rise from a pre-conventional morality, leapfrog a conventional morality, and achieve the most advanced stage of development under a post-conventional morality: universal ethics orientation.  Under this mindset, students would take a different approach to intelligent input from peers.  The competitive, “I don’t understand, so I must be stupid” mentality would be put aside for a self-enlightening echo of “I feel smart, as I had to stretch myself to comprehend” (Shah).

Under the professor-concentrated style of learning, the student is in the backseat.  A peer orientated style of learning brings the student into shotgun.  Feedback learning encourages the student to be an agent of change.  As humans, we should embrace this.  96% of our DNA is shared with chimpanzees; the difference is less than that between mice and rats (“Chimps, Humans 96 Percent the Same, Gene Study Finds”).  One of the principal characteristics that sets us apart as a more intelligent species is our opposable thumbs, the attribute ability of the precision grip.  We were made to be adaptable.

The adaptable nature of humans should be naturally complimented by college.  The word education is derived from mid-16th century Latin and the word educāre: to train or to mold.  By definition of its origin, education should be exercising and developing students’ minds.  A good example of this taking place is in the class I write this very essay for.  Our professor, Paul Kirpal Gordon, emphasized from the very first day that we need to develop ourselves within the KP Trident (as a thinker, reader, and writer).  However, throughout the industry this is not always the case.  “So what is the solution?” I hear you ask.  My answer is work—occupational experience, namely internships and work-study programs.   

Occupational experiences are a gateway to endless opportunities.  Schools should actively encourage and help students to seek out opportunities, or even go as far as making sure that all students acquire work experience within their desired field by the time they graduate.  At the workplace, students get the opportunity to meet people living the life they wish to live (Gordon), as well as having the chance to apply their developed skills to the “real world.”  Similar to the peer-to-peer relationship at college, relationships with extremely valuable dialogue can be developed in the professional world.  Mentorship is the ultimate career training from the front seat (Goodman).  One college that is particularly following my suggested modus operandi is the University of Chicago.  The Jeff Metcalf Internship Program provides a $4,000 grant for a 10 week period, if an employer cannot afford to hire interns at the local minimum wage (“When Internships Don’t Pay, Some Colleges Will”).  Clearly, this school sees the value that I do when it comes to occupational experiences.    

We must be mindful how we go about changes to the education industry.  “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” (Karr).  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Especially in the current political climate, radical desires will not be attended to.  They will ultimately not affect reality.  As with most matters, we need a progressive approach to help adjust the status quo.  For now, on the individual level, students should be proactive.  If you can’t drive, ride shotgun…just please do not get into the backseat.

Works Cited

Arum, Richard, and Roksa, Josipa. “Life after College: The Challenging Transitions of the Academically Adrift Cohort.” Change Magazine, June 19, 2012

Brookes, Samantha. “Rusted Gears: My Triumph over the American Education Factory.” Taking Giant Steps, June 29, 2016.  american.html. Accessed November 11, 2017.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary edition, Bloomsbury Academic, 2000

Goodman, Hannah. “Career Development for Undergraduates: A Genius-Bar Idea”. Taking Giant Steps, January 15, 2017.    development-for undergraduates.html. Accessed November 11, 2017.

Gordon, Paul Kirpal. WSC 001 class discussion. Hofstra, October 26, 2017.

Hartocollis, Anemona. “When Internships Don’t Pay, Some Colleges Will”. The New York Times. Nov 2, 2017.

Karr, Jean-Baptiste A. Les Guêpes.  Journal, January 1949.

Kohlberg, Lawrence. Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. 2012.

Lovgren, Stefan. “Chimps, Humands 96 Percent the Same, Gene Study Finds”. National   Geographic News. August 31, 2005.

Parker, Morgan. Do Not Pass Graduation, Do Not Collect $200,000 Degree. 2015.

Shah, Ria. “Has the University Stolen the Fire in Our Bellies?” Taking Giant Steps, October 27, 2015. our.html. Accessed November 11, 2017.

Watts, Alan W. The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety. Vintage Books,  2011

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