Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 12. 1965.
A challenge to students: — Towards Real Education
A challenge to students:
Towards Real Education
Student activities usually refer to glee clubs, athletics, homecoming dances, student government, and campus elections. Today, increasingly, it means agitating for the end of hostilities in Vietnam, greater emphasis on education, research programmes, housing and bursary problems, and a host of other concerns.
Most of all, it seems to mean a drive by students for a new kind of responsibility for and participation in adult society.
When this drive takes the form of mass protests and teach-ins, on or off campus, it makes the newspapers and television. Meanwhile here is a quieter, greater need. A need that can directly be met through the initiative and concern of many university students.
Tutorial and activity programmes for culturally deprived children; for the gifted and creative child; for the many "exceptional" children, both at home and in institutions, that is, intellectually handicapped children, blind, deaf, cerebral palsied, maladjusted, problem children, etc. There are many such needs that are going begging for someone interested to organise small groups and spend some carefully thought-out hours with these children and these issues. The supervision of the student novices is available through the university staff and a variety of governmental and private agencies. But first, the problem must be identified for what it is.
There is a lack of labour force (and often money and public interest) to meet some of these needs. Students should be given an opportunity to exercise what they learn in their classes to either reinforce their learning or critique some of the ideas they are exposed to at a practical level of application.
Listening to lectures, reading books and journals, without any practical experience along with it, makes about as much sense as studying astronomy without looking up at the heavens. Especially since many of the social and physical problems are like stars; so numerous and readily available for observation if one looks in the right places at the right time. Students can never completely understand the concepts, principles, and accumulated data they are exposed to until they have "discovered" at least some of them for themselves.
The areas of university work in the community were recently discussed by Professor Holmes of the Economics Department here at Victoria. He cited the American examples of mutual co-operation between university and community. This allows American universities to carry out wide-range research into national and civic problems to the benefit of the whole country. It makes for much closer and more deliberately contrived relationships between the universities and the community generally, and with their own graduates or alumni in particular.
Professor Holmes further elaborated on the point that teaching would not be impeded, but, on the contrary, greatly invigorated and made more exciting for the students if they were conducted by teachers who were also "actively expanding the frontiers of knowledge through research," and/or practical applications.
With the whole of Wellington City, the Capital City, and its surrounding communities at their disposal, the students (once organised) have a unique field for activity and they can make the most of it. Volunteer projects in the beginning, leading to part-time positions after they have proved themselves, are feasible. Of course, some students have taken on volunteer jobs in more usual places such as government offices and hospitals, but with a difference.
Their aim, besides providing a useful service, is to see that the work they do is "an important educational experience." The hospital volunteer work — pushing around the library cart, helping out at the snack shop, and similar chores — won't do. The students may, for instance, have considerable laboratory experience in science courses, and are capable of preparing culture slides, identifying disease organisms for slides, making stains and dyes, and performing sensitivity tests on antibiotics.
The some has been true in other areas. Schools, for example, have taken on part-time students as teacher aides, both in the regular and in some of the special classes. This has allowed the students in psychology, education, and social work to put to test some of the theories and practices learned. These people may become the sources of "new ideas" to those practising in the field as they often have a more critical eye.
There are numerous other smaller programmes. New ones come up each year, while others are dropped. The idea is to improve what works, weed out what doesn't, all the while looking for something new.
It could be the job of a select student council to set up programmes each year, recruit volunteers and place them, make sure both the volunteer and the agency are happy, and if they aren't, find out why not and do something about it. Students need more than campus politics and social functions. They should want to be involved in the "real world."
Living and getting to know Wellington City, students may also learn to know the society in which they will spend their lives, and apply these experiences to whereever they may live later. Whether they stay in Wellington or whether they go elsewhere, they are prepared, as they could be by no other experience, to respond to the challenges of an urban society with vigour, with poise, and with compassion.
I do not mean to imply that the university should abandon the idea that education consists of a series of papers to which a student must be exposed, but rather, that education should consist of a growing and changing blend of learning, understanding, and skill that an individual acquires and with which he combines the habit of advancing his own learning.
Perhaps it is time we asked ourselves the question of what we are here for—to offer a good education for people who are seriously intent upon receiving one, or to provide a pleasant stopping place for post-adolesence youth in a combination marriage market and coffee house socials.
Finally, I would like to ask, "What is the most important outcome of a university education?" Is it the ability to practise a vocation for which one has been trained, the capacity to demonstrate specific knowledge through taking a series of examinations, the decoration we call a degree, the friends one makes at university —or is it something more general, more elusive, and more personal than any of these?
Probably the most important outcome falls in this latter category and has something to do with the student's feeling about himself and his relationship to the world. It is perfectly possible for a person to spend three years in university, get all As, be elected to student associations, and even collect a spouse in the bargain, and still to avoid any experiences which make him a truly mature and truly educated person. Three years and a four-cornered cap with a tassel in the right position just does not add up to an education.
Education is sorely handicapped when it becomes a series of routines for faculty and students who have no genuine sense of community. We have all known intelligent, promising young people who, in the first or second year of university, pull out for something more real, more personal, and more related to the world. For outside these hallowed walls of university training resides the real world with many of its exceptions to the textbooks. Training means learning the rules; experience means learning the exceptions.