I Am Not a Cruise Director

There's a fashionable attitude in education right now that assumes that making things more interactive and more entertaining and more experiential for students results in a better education for that student. I think we'll live along into a time in which we will look back on this strategy and see its shortcomings clearly.

Surprise and novelty has a place in the studio, but not as a central dynamic. When you're  a student, you put yourself in a difficult place and battle through to the other side, you do something really hard that tests the limits of who you think you are. It is this kind of challenge that builds the self-esteem and resilience you need to survive life.

Currently, the teaching technique that includes the challenge of the very difficult is slighted by the kind of administrator who tells us that we've "evolved past" tests and deadlines. That administrator actually wants students comfy so they'll stay enrolled. But it is only through surviving appropriate challenges that you become really confident: only through challenging yourself do you begin to pat around the walls of your identity and find the shape of your own abilities-- only through challenge that you build the courage you will need to fill that shape out.

Although entertainment has a value in the classroom, the work of teachers is not the work of keeping students enrolled. I am not a cruise director. Dreaming up new ways to deliver content so that tech-drenched students "don’t get bored" is not my primary value, and cannot take more hours of my time than does the preparation of lectures, studio projects and seminar material.

Most important, relief from boredom is not what my students want. Though they may start out—as many do-- telling me that they hate to read, that history or criticism is too dry a subject for them, that instructors don’t understand who they are or appreciate their special personal needs,  I find that all of this goes away pretty fast when that student experiences triumph over a hard challenge in a safe place.  

A student is a person who seeks out difficult spots in order to figure out how to get out of those spots. Tests are hard spots. Writing is a hard spot. Showing up to do something you are not thrilled with doing is a hard spot. You are an educated person when you make the negotiation of hard spots a part of your identity. In order to do this, you need a safe place to test yourself, blunder along, bear failures and revel in success. A safe place. Not a terror-laden place or a fun-filled place. Without testing yourself, "education" is entertainment, and does nothing to found personal and intellectual growth.

In the same way that a mended hairline fracture strengthens bone, small, negotiable threats to your world view--or to your view of your own abilities--builds your confidence and resilience. Intellectual resilience is the edge that an educated person has in the world. It is the only lasting thing that school can give you.