Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I am a fraud, but it feels like a good thing.

I say this as I prepare, within the next 24 hours, to begin teaching an online English course at BYU-Idaho.

Apparently, I have on paper what they think it takes to become an instructor. I’ve got that bit of paper that says I have a masters degree. I also took that class, waaaay back in July and August, on their version of Blackboard.

And those problems I was having with Box.net? Sorted them out myself after fixing – you guessed it – a boneheaded mistake I made earlier in setting the account up.

So how can I say I’m a fraud and still feel like it’s a good thing?

In the words of Ralph Wiggum: I’m learnding.

Copyright by 20th Century Fox. Used here under the Fair Use Doctrine for educational purposes.

In the assigned readings for this week – yes, I read them, just as my students will be asked to – we’re cautioned against becoming complacent in our pursuit of knowledge. As Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said, as quoted in M. Kip Hartvigsen’s “Thinking about Thinking,” “Don’t be a couch potato. Be a man or a woman with a mind and a will and a bit of discipline, with a zest for learning that will be cultivated in this institution while you are here and that will be expanded through the years to come.”

Both Hartvigsen and Eliot Butler, a retired BYU chemistry professor, urge lifelong learning. Per Butler:

In the first place there is no barrier to anyone except one’s own self. . . . The educated person, actively, consciously, and vigorously learning through his own drive, cannot be egotistical about what he or she knows. Each step that increases understanding reveals a large area of ignorance tan could be seen before.

You must decide how you will respond. The Introduction to Music class can be a drudge with you dragging mental feet, complaining at the requirements of the class – or you can wake up, get interested in the subject by meeting the requirements, and then become free by letting that interest carry you beyond the requirements. You can choose to get credit, or you can choose to change your life (still receiving credit, but now with an improved grade). That class may be one that will affect your listening ever after. With a little understanding of music you will crave increased understanding, for you will have seen how much your appreciation and enjoyment grew just from effort in one class.

So, how am I applying what I’ve learned, and how am I continuing to push myself to learn?

Well, this teaching gig, for one. It scares the hell out of me. And it came to me last night, after I solved the technological issue, that it’s not the technology that scares me. It’s the students. They’re looking to me as an instructor. As someone who is going to help them learn to think. Do I do enough of that myself to say I can pass on any critical thinking skills?

I do know this: As Butler recommends, I do recognize my own ignorance. I do read a lot, on varied subjects, and realize more and more that I’m ignorant of a lot of things. I do try to reason things out, by seeking diverse opinions, by challenging assumptions and asking why people think the way they do, why I think the way I do, to see if I can identify flaws in my ways of thinking. I find plenty of flaws; don’t worry about that.

But I challenge Butler on one point. He says:

To learn is hard work. It requires discipline. And there is much drudgery. When I hear someone say that learning is fun, I wonder if the person has ever learned or he has just never had fun.

I’ve seen the hard work, discipline, and drudgery of learning. Yet I have experience the joy, the fun, the excitement, of learning as well. I’m sure some of what I have learned through fun is superficial and shallow. But much of what I have learned and had fun doing so has been highly enjoyable.

For example: I’m writing a book. Writing isn’t easy, because, as I read the draft, I know there is much work to be done to make it better. But, as Butler recommends, I took creative risks. I sought inspiration. I still do, hoping that as I work and as I go through the drudgeries of revising and editing, I can still find the inspiration, the joy, the drive that makes learning how to write a book a fun experience, one that I want to repeat again.

I know I’m ignorant. I know I’ve been an Ophelia to many Poloniuses – been too anxious to get the grade and get the class over with, rather than learning how to apply and use what’s being taught, thinking about it, challenging it. But like Ralph, I’m learnding. And always will be.

No comments: