What do I want from my students? I want them to push back. I want them to disagree. I want them to tell me where I’m wrong, and to hear where they are wrong. I want them to stop consuming my thoughts and start producing their own. Education is most effective when students engage with ideas alongside instructors and reach a full understanding of the content through the refining process of rational discussion. If the student cannot articulate their thought, odds are the thought is not really there. Further, if they cannot articulate an objection to a thought (whether they agree with the objection is of secondary importance), they are probably not comprehending the thought.
Consider the analogy of dancing. Let’s assume the student learned all there was to know on how to dance through videos, pictures, and a variety of written materials from experts in the field. However, until she actually stepped out on the dance floor and began to participate, she wouldn’t really know how to dance. But there’s more – for without a partner, a great deal of dancing becomes nonsensical. However, upon arrival of the partner, both dancers begin to experientially refine their dancing skills. Of course, they already knew everything about dancing, yet they could not dance. The paradox should be self-evident; they knew how to dance (theoretically), but they did not know how to dance (practically). In the theoretic stage, the student was unable to adapt to any new type of dancing. Once the practical stage had been mastered, she possessed the skills to not only transition to other varieties of dance, but also to a multitude of other rhythmic and aerobic activities.
Back to education – I do not merely want my students to learn facts or ideas about the world. I want them to step out onto the dance floor of thinking and learn how to construct thoughts. Of course I am there to guide, praise, and correct them; but I cannot guide, praise, or correct them when they are sitting on the sidelines, refusing to join the dance. They will step on each other’s toes, move in the wrong direction, and step at the wrong time – this is all part of the process. Many of our ideas will stink. But if we want ideas worth having, we have to embrace the bad ones. For without them, we will have nothing to refine. Consider the significance of students in history that pushed against what their teachers told them: the apostle Paul declared that Jesus was Messiah, Martin Luther reasoned from the Scriptures that his salvation must come through faith alone, and William Wilberforce argued that slavery was a violation of imageo Deo. Certainly the list goes on. So what do I want from my students? I want them to push back. I want them to disagree. I want them to tell me where I’m wrong, and to hear where they are wrong. I want them to stop consuming my thoughts and start producing their own.