Other Students, Other Problems Essay, Research Paper
Other Students, Other Problems
Gerald Gaff, teacher of literature at the University of Chicago, writes books about higher education. Other Voices, Other Rooms is an essay from Culture Wars. The battle he describes is being fought on the college campus by faculty and staff. The majority of the wounded are the students, while the remainder are those teaching. He applies the term “cognitive dissonance to the students who survive. Gaff states that few students are able to differentiate conflicting ideas and terms from one course, classroom, and professor to the next. By definition, Gaff s thesis is correct; only a minority is able to mentally process, knowing that they are hearing a harsh, disagreeable combination of sounds that suggest unrelieved tension and or discord. For those few individuals that enter a university with [ ] already developed skills at summarizing and weighing arguments and synthesizing conflicting positions on their own (152) are advantaged. They embrace clashing ideas and recognize them as rewarding experiences. However, the others are confused by the different views from class to class and conclude that course survival is contingent upon them conforming to the professor s view for the duration of the term. George Gaff does not discount the less skilled student. In fact, his essay speaks of solutions to this unspoken common ground (152) found within the academic environment. This personal, multi-dimensional point of view is certainly worth trying on to see how it feels (152).
No self respecting educator would deliberately design a system guaranteed to keep students dependent on the whim of the individual instructor. Yet this is precisely the effect of a curriculum composed of courses that are not in dialogue with one another (151). The students loose. They come to universities expecting to find a community of scholars seemingly in accord with one another, but what they find is not what they expected. They find a curriculum that is not in agreement, only showing bits and pieces of the whole, which leaves students confused and possibly indifferent. This dilemma escalates when you bring teachers into the equation. [ ] [W]hen their teachers conflicting perspectives do not enter into a common discussion, students may not even be able to infer what is wanted. Like everyone else, teachers tend to betray their crucial assumptions as much in what they do not say, what they take to go with out saying, as in what they say explicitly (152). Students may not even realize that their teachers disagree. A group of teachers may use one word to describe different concepts or they may use different words for the same application. Most students do not realize when this is happening to them in their courses, so these students are forced to agree with everything the professor says just to get by. To help people understand this dissonance within the universities, Gaff uses the game of baseball as an example. It would be difficult to understand the game of baseball if each part of the game was shown in different rooms. Presenting the student with individual aspects of the sport and never unifying all the elements to equal the game causes the student to loose.
This analogy is the curriculum presented in college. As many rooms as the student enters and the amount of subject material he learns, if those teaching are not willing to teach unification of the matter that is presented, the student will not benefit. Students that present themselves for college admission have proven to the university that they are academically ready to learn. With that foundation, the voices in the various rooms need only to teach them how they will be presented with cognitive dissonance in their courses. The result will benefit the student s overall education from its inception while the communication between the other voices and rooms will provide another dimension to the course. Each course is a bit of the whole and it would be very hard for the student that is not equipped to be able to put the pieces together.
Gaff presents two types of students, one that has no problem with this clashing of ideas, and one that cannot see through to the next room. Gaff by no means discounts the second type of student. He says that this is the majority of the population at school. These students go to class and see each class as a whole in itself. No one is asking them to think about the relationship between all their classes, and if the faculty were to do so, it may possibly come across to these students as it did to Gaff as, [ ] needlessly multiplying difficulties for myself (153). These students do not realize that contrast is fundamental to understanding a subject. We think that we are making it easy by separating everything into different classes, but in truth, it is harder to see the college education this way. How can a student contrast an idea if they don t have anything with which to contrast? They might not even know that they are supposed to contrast what they are learning. Since contrast is key to learning, it makes concepts hard to grasp when you do not have the skill. It is hard to grasp the modernity of modern literature unless one can compare it with something that is not modern. It is crucial to see the big picture to be able to learn. Gaff s second type of student deserves the right to be taught this vital element of higher education. Without this instruction, it is no wonder capable students will continue to view each course as an island. Unless they are rescued by an inspired teacher or by an informed peer, they will graduate sans a critical thinking skill that would benefit them for a lifetime. This is a problem for me because I fall into the second category of students.
Personally, my arrival on this college campus was greatly anticipated. Academically, I realized that my secondary education taught me self-discipline, but my college courses would address a plethora of ideas. Truly, I was the second student that Gaff described, confused, and at times, indifferent. Two months is not a terribly long period of time, but it is sufficient enough for me to realize that if I choose to treat each class independent of the other, I will win short term with the grade, yet loose the life lesson. Identifying with the situation, acknowledging cognitive dissonance, does not require me to agree or disagree with the professor s stated position. Just because they have a Dr. in front of their name, published essay, taught seminars, received accolades from the college community, or have written a book does not mean that they are right, or that I have to agree with them. Agreement is not what Gaff says is needed. My attention needs to be directed to the previous subject matter so I can contrast the two disciplines. This is the key to grasping the whole idea. Being that I realize I entered college without the means to apply cognitive dissonance to my studies, I can now acknowledge that Gaff s essay has redirected my approach to class work. The second type of student has a choice once they are informed of this process: apply it, or choose not to apply the concept and remain marooned. Application means struggling to survive. I am, [ ] trying on a variety of clashing ideas, to see what opportunities an education can provide [ ] (152).
To herald the equipped student while encouraging the uninformed will benefit the student and teacher. An education is a privilege that is a sacrifice for me; to learn all that I can is my desire. To have an interwoven education throughout my courses would be tremendous. Now that I am armed with this knowledge, I am accountable to see the dissonance and even raise my voice to it.