An Independence Day Letter to my Students

I am privileged to be an adjunct professor for Everest College.  The opportunity to touch the lives of hundreds of students is something I greatly relish.  On Independence Day, 2014, I wrote the following to my current students.  If you are a former student of mine, or if you just came across this blog for some other reason, I hope that you’ll take to heart the following:

Dearest Students:

As we go into this holiday weekend, I hope you all remember what we are truly celebrating. The independence that our nation gained over 200 years ago is something that allows us to be studying as we are here today. We don’t need any sort of royal decree to allow us to teach. In slightly over two centuries of existence, our great nation has accomplished many wonderful things. We face challenging times, as is often the case in any great nation. What makes America truly great is not only our great freedoms, but how we deal with struggles and the hard times in life.  We are an exceptional nation made up of exceptional people.
It’s important that you are always aware of the great sacrifices that it took to get to where we stand today. If while you’re watching a parade, you happen to see a veteran, go up to that man or that woman and express your thanks for that person’s service to our great country.  Having been a soldier, I can tell you that the greatest challenges are those we face when we get back into the “real” world. While many of our veterans don’t bear their scars on the outside, a great number bear scars on the inside. One out of every four homeless people is a veteran. On any given day, 22 veterans die at their own hands. If you started counting the number of veterans who died this way from New Year’s Day until Labor Day, the number would exceed those who died in the entire Iraqi conflict. Independence is something that we enjoy freely, but it didn’t come cheaply.
You have great things waiting for you after this class is done. College is one of the few places where you have the ability to determine almost everything that happens to you. You choose how much to study, you choose how hard you work on assignments, and you choose how much you participate in the discussion threads. If there is anything that I can tell you about your educational experience to come, it’s this; it doesn’t get easier. I have a dual Bachelor’s, a Diploma in Military Science, two Master’s degrees, and I’m working toward a postgraduate degree, and it is as hard today as it was when I was a college freshman 35 years ago. It’s always a challenge, but it’s always worth it. During the introductions to class, we ask you about those who will be your greatest supporters. It’s wonderful to have support, but remember one thing, the only one that you need to impress with what you do at school, is yourself. When you look at your grades, don’t gauge yourself so much on the letter grade as you do on the level of effort that went into achieving that letter grade. If you get a C in a class, and you put every bit of your being into earning that, then feel good about it. The size of the diploma of a student that carried a 2.9 GPA is not any smaller than that of a student who earned a perfect 4.0.

Best wishes to you all,
Andy Knaster, BA, MA, MSIS
Adjunct Prof., Everest College Phoenix Online

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Student vs. scholar

I am sitting just a few months shy of my second Master’s.  Three weeks after I get that, I undertake a second opportunity to get a  doctorate, only this time at age 50 instead of age 32.  In one of the uncounted number of random thoughts that come during periods of solitude, I was considering what the difference is between a student and a scholar.  A student sees studying as the means to an end such as a diploma or a degree.  A scholar sees studying as a beginning without needing a particular end in sight.  When I was 32, I was merely a student.  Today, I am scholar.

The Conundrum of Teaching

Good teaching always results in two things for the student, increased knowledge of the subject matter accompanied by a proportional knowledge of the degree of the student’s ignorance thereof.  This is essential to lifelong learning because while the first produces the second, it is the second that motivates the first.

Reduced to a teachable form

Aristotle’s Ethics begins with the following,

Every art, and every science reduced to a teachable form, and in like manner every action and moral choice, aims, it is thought, at some good: for which reason a common and by no means a bad description of the Chief Good is, “that which all things aim at.”

My first thought was why is the clause “reduced to a teachable form” even necessary? Every art and science should be reduced to a teachable form. Of what value is art or science if it is not taught? A teacher’s raison d’être is to confer knowledge and understanding. A teacher’s job is never done as long as ignorance and misunderstanding exist. Today’s teachers worry about getting tenure for security. A teacher’s security should be based on how well that teacher eliminates ignorance and corrects misunderstanding.

The Socratic Method

During a recent grad school class, I had occasion to explain what the Socratic Method is.

Please let me explain the Socratic Method.  A few millenia ago, this brilliant kid named Socrates asked my Jewish great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother Channa why he was not being effective as a teacher.  She said, “Socrates, stop kvetching and don’t be such a maven all the time.  All you do is tell everybody everything.  They know more than you give them credit for.  Ask them questions and let them come up with the answers.  From now on, no more telling, just asking.  Ferschtay-zie?”  Socrates thought for a moment and said, “Bubbe Channa, so is it better for a guy with all the answers to ask all the questions?”  She looked him in the eye and said, “what do you think?”  The rest is history.