Edit desk: Break the mold of higher education


Olivia Abrams

When transitioning to college, students are often worried about leaving home or making new friends. While I was concerned about these things, I found myself particularly worried about adapting to a new academic environment.

Having attended a small, progressive school since I was 3 years old, I had never been exposed to a different type of learning.

Before I came to Lehigh, I had never addressed my teachers by their last names. I had never taken a final and I had never learned in a classroom with walls. Instead, my school separated areas by bookshelves, so students could hear every other class that was going on around them.

All of these differences in education were intended to foster a strong, accepting community where creativity was celebrated rather than hampered.

While I knew some of these experiences were drastic — even compared to other progressive schools — the idea that my education was truly special has only become more apparent since my time at Lehigh.

I was accepted into Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics, but before I even set foot on campus, I knew I was going to transfer into the College of Arts and Sciences. I wanted to have the freedom to choose the majority of my classes and to not be forced to take classes that did not interest me.

I didn’t want the same experience as some of my peers with more restricted curriculum who don’t enjoy going to class or question why they bother attending a lecture that’s based directly on a textbook. During high school, my teachers almost never used textbooks and I had the ability to take electives about the Supreme Court, feminism and graphic design.

The purpose of college is to give students the opportunity to dive deeper into their passions. Though students might not have a love for learning when they come to college, professors have the ability to change that.

From a young age, my teachers presented themselves as wiser, approachable mentors rather than superior disciplinarians. Since coming to Lehigh, I’ve tried to form relationships with my professors by attending office hours or having lunch with them. The fundamental issue that prevents students from succeeding, especially in a large class, is the lack of student-teacher relationships.

When professors and students make an effort to get to know one another, it creates a sense of community where everyone is mutually respected. If professors don’t know their students, they can’t help them succeed, whether that means passing the class, finding research opportunities or providing life advice.

The professors who inspire me the most are the ones who know more about me than just my name, have made time to help me when I’m confused and genuinely want to see me succeed.

My high school showed me that progressive education inspires students to develop a love for learning and gives them the freedom to pursue their individuality that is often hampered in large lecture classes. In my experience, the professors who give seemingly impossible tests are often the ones who teach large classes and don’t have the chance to get to know all their students.

Participating in a discussion-based class gives students different perspectives and sometimes answers questions they didn’t even know they needed to ask. These insights are simply not obtainable from a textbook.

In certain classes such as the natural sciences, where some concepts are simply not up for debate, professors at Lehigh mainly rely on tests to find out if their students grasp the information. However, students are discouraged when they study hours on end, sometimes even sacrificing their physical or mental well-being, for an exam where the average is 36 percent.

That does not need to be the case. While some tests can be beneficial, there are simply other ways to determine students’ knowledge. By assigning projects or giving students the opportunity to teach classes, professors could boost students’ confidence and help them retain the information for much longer. In Edgar Dale’s concept, “The Cone of Experience” he proposes that “we remember 90 percent of what we teach to others.”

Though it is impossible to avoid textbook-centric classes completely, I’ve opted to mostly take classes that are discussion based because I’m neither a good test taker nor do I see the value in testing, especially for large portions of a grade in a class.

If college is supposed to prepare us for the workforce, how do exams prepare students for real-world experiences? When students are done with schooling, they will never take a test again, but they will keep learning for the rest of their lives.

While someone with a love for learning might argue that having a good understanding of the material and passion are the most important reasons for taking a class, I’ve come to learn that many students are motivated solely by grades.

Though grades are important — especially achieving the minimum GPA for job applications — they absolutely do not define us. If anything, grades only suppress students’ passions, consequently preventing the development of scholarly individuals with distinct perspectives.

As global labor strays further from the menial repetitive tasks of the industrial era, the workforce is seeking innovative people who are willing to question the status quo. These are the students who define their education by the pursuit of understanding, not the pursuit of an A.

In order to produce these innovative, self-motivated students, higher education must adopt the principles of progressive education — the principles that have helped nurture me into the person I am today.

Olivia Abrams, ’21, is an assistant lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]

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  1. rich white girl problems…

    “If college is supposed to prepare us for the workforce, how do exams prepare students for real-world experiences?”

    …in my hood we have to deliver reports and projects to get paid, sometimes these are oral or written reports. these need to be accurate for my boss and the client. maybe the OP plans to get married and not work but the rest of us have to meet deadlines and complete tasks. those who excel at learning and testing make the best employees and the best students students. in the hood we have to both walk and chew gum…but again sounds like she has rich white girl problems LOL

  2. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    Lots of interesting ideas for never ending discussions.

    I would suggest reading Dilbert comics for anyone going into the corporate world. It might also be useful to have an irrational professor who does not appreciate innovation or new ideas. There will be graded testing but you might not see the graded test results although you may experience them. Truly innovative people should probably work for themselves.

    It’s wonderful to have a love for learning but after college those who may only care about grades may then only care about money or power. Possibly sad but probably true.

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