MAY YOU NEVER STOP DANCING -
A Professor's Letters to his Daughter
by Professor John D. Lawry
Marymount College, Tarrytown, NY

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Page 18, What No One Ever Told Them About College (A Survey):

Dcar Lili,
 
I conducted a survey recently in my general psychology class of twenty-four students, mostly freshmen. I asked them to "list five things that you wish someone had told you about college before comg to Marymount, things that you had to learn on your own." I thought you might be interested in the results. The responses are ranked in order of frequency of occurrence (the number in parentheses represents the number of students who gave that answer; those without a number had one response each) and are stated in summary form or, in some cases, verbatim.
 
1. Importance of self-discipline (time management, and so on) (9)
2. Money problems (8)
3. Roommate problems - "Don't expect her to be your best friend!" (6)
4. Amount of responsibility (independence) placed on students (5)
5. Amount of work and time required for studying (4)
6. Heterogeneity of student body (moral standards, social class, and so on) (4)
7. Missing Mom's home cooking (3)
8. Diversity of teaching quality (3)
9. Difficulty attached to registration and course selection (3)
10. Great opportunity for growing up (3)
11. Missing family and friends (3)
12. Learning to get along with so many people (2)
13. Too much walking! (2)
14. 1 love it! (2)
15. Don't be afraid to get involved. (2)
16. People care more than I anticipated.
17. The amount of cheating
18. Assertiveness works
19. Importance of library skills
20. Getting a husband seems to be more important than getting an education.
21. Students are here because of Daddy.
22. No surprises!
23. Need for a car at a residential college
24. What to bring!
25. Importance of attending class
26. Importance of note-taking skills
27. Scary not knowing where I am going
28. Immaturity of other students
29. Time flies!
30. What to do after college?
31. Don't get sick!
32. Be yourself!
33. Too many requirements!
34. Poor social life
35. The food is good!
36. Not enough washing machines
37. Not enough heat!
38. Not enough hot water for showers'
39, Courses are more interesting than high school.
40. Get yourself known by faculty and administrators; they are human too!
41. Difficulty of being a commuter at a residential college
42. Teachers are so nice and helpful.
43. Theft in the laundry room
 
So there you have it, Lil. Let me know what you think and what you can identify with. To self-discipline!

Love,

Dad

 Page 22 Becoming Your Own Teacher
Dear Lili,
 
I was thinking about the idea of becoming your own teacher and the fact that everyone must take responsibility for their own learning. Unfortunately, our school system reinforces passivity, as a visit to almost any classroom at any rung of the educational ladder (except perhaps kindergarten!) will amply demonstrate. Who is doing most of the talking, lecturing, thinking? The teacher. Who is doing the sitting, listening, note taking? The student.
 
The more I teach, the more I see that the typical college classroom is not a very efficient place to learn anything. It pains me to hear college graduates say, "I think I will take a course in such and such." By the time you graduate, taking a course should be unnecessary. To learn something on your own would be a test of whether you really have become your own teacher. (For example, I have taught myself to use the computer by writing these letters to you.)
 
Taking responsibility for your own learning means not blaming the teacher if you don't learn anything (which may or may not be reflected in the grade!). Try to see the teacher as a guide or a facilitator, one who presumably knows more about a particular subject than you do, a model to be imitated perhaps, a participating learner. if you need the teacher to be a motivator as well, you are in trouble, because your learning will be contingent upon the teacher being able to motivate you. If you feel that he or she is boring, uninspiring, dogmatic, or whatever, you will not learn, and you will have given responsibility for your own learning over to someone else.
 
How do you know if you have learned something? The classic psychology textbook definition says that learning is a relatively permanent change in behavior that is brought about by experience (in other words, it is not induced by things like drugs, fatigue, illness, and so on). So if last week you couldn't ride a bicycle and today you can, you are then able to say that this change in behavior must be due to your having "learned" to ride a bike. (This is what is called an inference, because you can't see the learning but infer its existence to explain the change in behavior.) Therefore, everything that you learn should have some effect on your behavior. (I am using the word behavior to include psychological phenomena such as perceptionsmelling a rose, and cognition-solving a problem, as well as motor behavior-riding a bicycle.)
 
It follows then that what does not produce change in you somehow isn't learned. If you read a book and it doesn't change you in some way, then you haven't really learned anything from reading it. You might argue that you chose not to change because you disagreed with the author - a kind of negative learning. That's legitimate; but in all other cases, if you haven't changed, you haven't learned. The next time you read a book, concentrate on the changes it might introduce into your life; otherwise you have wasted your time! (Though I must confess that the changes may not be immediately apparent and, for much of what you learn in college, probably won't be.) What I am arguing for is a vigilance for connecting what you are learning to your life, for making it relevant. That's fairly easy to do in my discipline of psychology, but it should be the goal of everything you learn, from art and architecture to Zen and zoology.
 
Taking responsibility for your own learning also means cultivating efficient study habits. All too often I hear students respond to a poor grade on an exam with, "But I stayed up all night studying for it." A good learner never stays up all night studying for an exam. By doing so the student puts himself or herself at a disadvantage by taking the exam after a sleepless night, and also reveals that he or she has left everything until the last minute. To coin a proverb, Procrastination is the mother of failure.
 
The one characteristic that seems to identify good students in my experience is that they have learned to anticipate the teacher. This strategy of staying ahead of the teacher gives the student a tremendous advantage. The lectures become much more meaningful because the student has already read the material and now has a context in which to listen to the lecture. The listening becomes much more productive; indeed, it becomes active listening. Furthermore, the learning becomes distributed over a period of time rather than massed at the end, when the students have real critical limits operating and a radical diminishing of returns after a few hours of cramming. Another way of thinking about this is that the good student has simply learned to organize his or her time better. One of the things that you should be learning in college is how to use your time so that you get the work done and still have some time left for play and fun.
 
A corollary of this, of course, is that you should never waste time. Waste here is a tricky word. One person's "wasted" time is another person's leisure. One of the things you discover as you get older is that time is one of life's most precious gifts. I suppose balance is the key here. An old Latin adage says, age quod agis! - Do what you are doing! - or perhaps less literally, Be here now!
 
Keep in mind also that you (or someone else, like your parents) are paying a lot of money for the privilege of sitting in that classroom; therefore, only a very good reason should justify cutting a class. All too frequently I see students hurting themselves by not attending classand by not even bothering to find out what happened while they ere absent. Try to arrange your schedule so that you can attend all your classes, and if for some good reason you must be absent, be sure to find out what happened from a classmate. (Don't bother theteacher, because she or he usually doesn't relish giving the lecture over again. It is your responsibility to find out what was said.) Remember, you are responsible for learning the material that was covered in the class from which you were absent. I find it frustrating when a student attempts to excuse herself from knowing something because she was absent from that particular class.
 
Absenteeism brings up the whole question of health and taking care of yourself. I see a lot of students abusing their bodies and beming ill when they should be at the peak of their health. The problem, I think, is that many students have not internalized the good health habits imposed by their parents, and when they are away at school, no one imposes the habits anymore. As a result, students fall into bad habits with regard to sleeping, eating, drinking, and so on. I suppose it is part of the task of discovering one's limits, and many students, it seems, have to discover their limits the hard way.
 
A final point I would like to make about health is that being a student is primarily a sedentary occupation, and thus it is mandatory that you reserve a certain amount of time each week for exercise. A twenty-minute segment seems to be the minimal period for optimal aerobic effect. A number of studies have shown that students who exercise regularly do better in their studies, probably because it improves their powers of concentration. Centuries ago an ancient Roman writer said that a sound mind in a sound body is the key to a good life. Promise me that when you are finished reading this letter, you will go for a nice walk and think about becoming your own teacher, okay?

 

Take good care,

Dad

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