Rather than telling students to study for exams, we should be telling them to study for learning and understanding.
If there is one student attitude that most all faculty bemoan, it is instrumentalism. This is the view that you go to college to get a degree to get a job to make money to be happy. Similarly, you take this course to meet this requirement, and you do coursework and read the material to pass the course to graduate to get the degree. Everything is a means to an end. Nothing is an end in itself. There is no higher purpose.
When we tell students to study for the exam or, more to the point, to study so that they can do well on the exam, we powerfully reinforce that way of thinking. While faculty consistently complain about instrumentalism, our behavior and the entire system encourages and facilitates it.
Yesterday I had a conversation with PhD student in Creative Writing. She asked what “Spiritual Counselling”meant – it’s written on the outside-facing window of Oasis along with other descriptors of what may happen in Oasis.
Beneath her question was a longing for her work to be understood beyond the technical domain. She had suffered much abuse in her childhood and is writing about her transformation toward wholeness. But who is prepared to really ‘listen’ to her, to give her space to explore the spiritual dimensions of her work? No-one, it seems.
I thought Kylie, our Pagan chaplain might be a good person to be her spiritual listener. I introduced them and invited her to join the chaplains for our lunch together next week, to affirm her yearning for spiritual insight and to join a community who value her journey and will support her in it.
The ‘instrumentalism’ embedded in the university goes much deeper than study and exams. It pervades every aspect of university life.