Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Father's Thoughts on Higher Education

This week my sons Tim and Sam start college, Tim after graduating from Orem High and working for his brother-in-law as a construction laborer and Sam after two years as a Mormon missionary in India.

As their father, I've got a lot of regrets and lots of good memories, and, naturally, I worry about my boys and have high hopes for them.

To assuage some of those worries, I'll do what parents often do when they're left with few options: give advice.

So then, thoughts on higher education:

1. Read. I don't mean your textbooks. You'll have to buy those big and expensive books anyway, and week by week your German and math and biology professors will guide you through them. You'll read them slowly and repeatedly and beat your heads against them before exams. And then you'll sell them for half price before they lose their value entirely. So I don't mean your textbooks. Read for pleasure. Read because you want to know things. Read to expand your inner life. Read to figure out who you are and the possibilities for who you might become. Read to learn new words and to meet new characters. I'm packing a couple of books for you, meant to augment your personal libraries. Tim, here's John Berger's and Jean Mohr's "At the Edge of the World," good words and good photos. Sam, for you Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses," a playful and troubling addition to all the sights and smells and accents and personalities and economic circumstances you witnessed in India. Don't sell these books. Use them. And add books of your own choosing to the shelf. Come home with more books than you left with.

2. Be curious. Your university is like a Disneyland for the mind. Find the best rides. Stand in line for lectures and art shows and performances. See films and sign up for field trips. Hear live music and follow the arguments of fine historians. Pay attention to the architecture and to the sculptures in the courtyards. 

3. Ask questions. Educators are successful if their students learn. Professors are passionate about their subjects and like nothing better than answering good questions from curious students. Curiosity makes every question good. Do more than is required by the syllabus and then ask the professor to teach you beyond the class.

4. Go to class every day. Go to class every day after doing the homework. Go to class every day, not to get credit for being in class, but to learn the lessons of that day. Go to class every day. It adds up in good ways.

5. After you've gone to class every day, after you've done every day's homework, after all the work that will make you proud and smart, enjoy the people around you. . . . and here I'll slip away. Nothing quite so bad as a father giving social advice.


michael morrow said...

I did it..........I signed up for Rick McDonald's "History of Literary Criticism" class. Your advise, as with other conversations we have shared, is timely and well spoken. I dare say, if I may add my little 2 cents,,,,,,,,,,education is never too late, too hard, nor too expensive.... in-spite of popular educational philosophy

Will said...

I like all of your advice, and could have used much of it myself a long time ago. I would add that a good prof is worth her or his weight in gold. Some of my favorite classes have been on topics for which I wouldn't have registered, but I did because of who was teaching.

deutschlehrer said...

May I add: don't let your degree get in the way of your education--oh, and go to class :-)

Grabloid said...

good advice indeed...