Menu Close

A bit of good advice from an article: Enough With the ‘Lifelong Learning’ Already

Enough With the ‘Lifelong Learning’ Already

That tired phrase accomplishes little and means even less

Careers 1-7-11

Brian Taylor for The Chronicle


I recognize that people who preach the faith about lifelong learning have good intentions. But what they are asking for is so imprecise. Lifelong learners of what? Unless we answer that question, the phrase means nothing. It belongs in the junk pile of shopworn academic platitudes.

So let’s attempt to answer that question. I’ll start. It should go without saying that I want my students to become more knowledgeable about literature, more effective in interpreting the written word, and more competent writers and speakers. Those are my primary goals. But if I had to articulate secondary, big-picture objectives, I would say that I want my students to become curious, open-minded, empathetic citizens.

  • Curious: That word isn’t too far from lifelong learner, but I see a difference. Everyone learns; not everyone is curious. I want students to continue to see the world as an interesting place. When they encounter something that puzzles or intrigues them—like a work of literature—I want them to wonder about it, and maybe look for some more information, or engage in conversations with other human beings about it. I don’t care whether that thing is a poem or a plant, just so long as they want to know more about it.
  • Open-Minded: I’m pretty convinced that the majority of the problems in the world are caused by people who believe they are 100 percent correct about something. Nothing breeds bad behavior like certainty. So I wish for my students to have passionate convictions—but to be only about 90 convinced. They should always allow for the possibility that they are wrong. They should remain open to the prospect that new information might change everything they believe. (Note that I am only “pretty convinced” about this; I could be wrong.)
  • Empathetic: As thinkers like David Foster Wallace and Martha Nussbaum have argued, our species seems to do well when we cultivate the capacity to imagine ourselves in the position of “the other.” I feel fortunate in that I teach works of the imagination, and believe that such works can help instill that quality in students.
  • Citizens: With some notable exceptions, we depend on each other for survival. We have an obligation to stay informed about what’s happening in our cities and towns, and to help and support them when we can. Putting works of literature in historical context, and describing how they have shaped, or not, the societies in which they were produced, might just help students think more carefully about their obligations to their fellow citizens.

That’s what I want for my students. I don’t need them to become lifelong learners—drink a shot!—because they’ll do that anyway. So what do you want for yours?

via Enough With the ‘Lifelong Learning’ Already – Advice – The Chronicle of Higher Education.