PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION AND TEACHING

A course should be worth far more than a grade at the end of the semester. Likewise, a university education should be worth far more than a diploma as a job ticket. The university provides a receptive student with the unique opportunity to devote several years to exploring the world through scholarship. Only a small fraction of humanity ever enjoys such an opportunity. Thus a student admitted to a university should make the most of every minute! It is the student's responsibility to bring self-motivation and self-discipline to university studies. A good library is by far the most important facility at any university and students should take advantage of it. Students who do not follow these principles simply cheat themselves out of a genuine university education and diminish their entire life.

There is more to learning than simply memorizing information that will be forgotten shortly after a quiz or examination. It is far more important to learn how to find, critically analyze, and apply information. The development of such skills can be transferred in many practical contexts of everyday life and work throughout one's lifetime. If more people in society and the world had such skills we wouldn't be in such an awful mess! Today, more than ever, the greatest need in education is the development and practice of critical thinking which has become a survival skill in a society where frauds and liars are so commonplace in every sector, not just in government and politics, but also in science and academia.

Students should enjoy the freedom of speech and academic freedom to pursue any subject and say or write anything they wish about that subject as long as it is relevant and polite. Most of all, education should open minds rather than close them. Intellectual myopia is contrary to the very essence of a university. Cooperative and interactive learning can help students keep an open mind as well as help learn how to disagree with others without being disagreeable.

The primary duties and responsibilities of any instructor is to organize, synthesize, and present current course material for the students in the class and to relate it to practical sociopolitical problems and issues of contemporary society and the world in a meaningful way. It is most important for the instructor to promote critical analysis of the course material as well. As consumers, students should settle for nothing less, and if that is the case, then they should either drop the class or protest to the administration. On the other hand, any good teacher can do no more than make course material available to students and create a free and enjoyable learning environment; it is up to the student to take advantage of the opportunity and it is their loss if they do not.

Finally, only the highest professional and intellectual standards, integrity, and honesty should always be pursued wholeheartedly, even if one finds them to be uncommon in science and academia as well as in government and society. Furthermore, standards should not be confused with standardization. Good teachers take into account diversity in student backgrounds, interests, and needs in planning and implementing the curriculum and classes, rather than pursuing the myopic mentality of trying to promote a factory assemlby line model in education wherein everyone must be forced into the same mold. Such a model is contrary to the diversity of humanity and the subject matter as well as to the very nature of anthropology itself.

 

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Speech delivered at Cornell University on the occasion of the retirement of Professor Kenneth A.R. Kennedy