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Education as Entertainment:

Our society today is permeated by entertainment, and everything is fast. We have cell phones, instant coffee, one hour-photo shops, microwave ovens, the internet, and all manner of other things that teach us that everything should be quick, easy, and exciting. Anything that takes time or effort is shunned, and clearly not "fun". Unfortunately, what is important in life rarely is easy or quick, and since our society values mainly superficial things, it has not prepared us well to handle these more subtle situations.

Learning, at least when it involves the deep ideas you are expected to handle in college, is not an easy or quick process. It takes time, sustained effort, and clear focus in order to be successful at it, so you can not approach it with the attitudes that society has instilled in you. A student who says on his course evaluation that "the class needs to be more exciting" is looking for entertainment, not an education. Despite what some might think, we're not here to entertain you, but rather to introduce you to some profound ideas -- ideas people have been thinking about for hundreds or even thousands of years -- and to help you learn to recognize the guideposts on the path to understanding them, so that in the future you can find the road yourself.

This is a difficult process, and it will take effort on your part to be successful. We can't do it for you (or to you); we can only point the way. It is up to you to make the connections and build the framework in your head that is necessary for true understanding. If you go to your classes expecting "edu-tainment", you will be disappointed.

This is not to say that learning can't be fun; it can be. But it is not the kind of fun you get from watching your favorite TV show. Rather, it is the deeper joy of overcoming a challenge, or seeing things in a new way, or doing something you didn't think you could do; it is the joy of making connections between things that seemed unconnected, of working your way through a difficult and seemingly impenetrable problem. In my experience, these are far more satisfying than mere entertainment.

Whether the material is "exciting" or not is not an objective question, but a subjective one, meaning it depends on you. One person's dull is another one's exciting; so, to a large extent, it is up to you whether this course is fun or not. One way to help make it so is to come to class prepared by taking time to think about what we have been doing in past classes and where we are going. This way, you are ready to make the connections necessary for real understanding.

Consider it this way: if you go to a football game, but you don't know the rules, and don't know who the teams or the players are, you will likely be confused and frustrated by the experience. The same is true in the classroom. If you haven't taken time to think about the class, you have little hope of really understanding the material presented, and even less hope of enjoying it. It is part of your responsibility to make the class exciting by being ready to recognize the connections that are what make it interesting and relevant.

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Created: 29 Aug 2000
Last modified: 11 Sep 2021 08:29:00
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