Why can't they just teach us what we need?

We had a family spend the weekend with us this past weekend. He is an old friend from college days, she is his young wife with two young girls. She is studying to be a grade school teacher and he is teaching high school physics. So of course we were talking a lot about teaching.

She was complaining about her university - what a disorganized bunch! Some professors have seminar lists on the board, some keep online lists and accept email registrations, some have secretaries that keep the lists. You have to figure out who does what, and some have very specific times at which you have to be there in order to sign in for courses. Getting the credits you need to graduate is an exercise in frustration. Well, our students need to know that, bitching about minor stuff like not finding the exams (RTF notice on the FIRST PAGE with the box around it telling you where they are) or not getting the class they wanted. They have everything online, even if it is difficult to make work.

But she was so irritated at her professors, just droning on and on with all this nonsense, and what she wanted was: what do I have to do to teach this subject to grade school kids? That is, she expects to have practical stuff told to her. Both WiseMan and I pontificated on the meaning and purpose of university studies, noting that few of our graduates would do what they were expecting when they started. We teach (or try to teach) people to think, to understand the culture of our fields.

I think that we need to be very explicit with our beginning students, what they can expect from studying at university. Not a ticket to a particular job, but learning how to learn, and how to be conversant in a specific field. And hopefully, how to read and write and think.

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