Sep 162007
 
Authors: Anne Marie Merline

Last April, I was called for Jury Duty.

At the end of the trial we received a set of instructions that we were supposed to use while we deliberated the verdict. The part that interested me was an instruction that read: “Finally, you should consider all the evidence in light of your observations and experience in life.”

I thought that these instructions were an interesting parallel to the social science and humanities courses that I teach.

I use the classroom as a forum for an exchange of opinions and experiences to learn the topic of the course. I find that discussion is helpful in the way that we try to better understand our lives as my students dissect the questions of human communities.

After that day in April, I figure if the legal system of a most developed country can use this statement as a foundation, that it is good enough for use in my classroom.

In the United States, someone who is charged with a civil or criminal offense in is judged by their “peers,” ordinary people picked from a myriad of voting records and driver’s licenses of city, county, and state governments.

In the classroom it seems to work in the inverse. The peers (students) are judged by only one (the teacher).

Teaching is a lonely profession that utilizes the experience and opinions of one, without the scrutiny of others.

In the ten or eleven years that I have been teaching, I have only had one person that is not a student witness my teaching.

I remember a former peer of mine dropping into my classroom during a big snowstorm when I taught at Front Range Community College.

To say the least, I was not dressed to the nines. I had a big sweatshirt on, floppy jeans and snow-boots.

I was nervous and had to try hard to remember that teaching is not all about my wardrobe, but my ability to convey facts and opinions to the students so that they then can make sense of them.

In the end, I don’t even think I was privy to her deliberation and verdict of how she thought I performed as a teacher.

Education, and higher education in particular, seems to work against all that our political and social system function.

At the top, we are a representative democracy that makes rules based on the notion that we all contribute to making the laws, and progressing society onward. In the public school system, we recognize the benefits of teamwork and team teaching.

When you get to college you are subject to the will of “me.”

Students, especially undergraduate students, fail to understand that they should be a more active part of the educational process so that it is more democratic, and that we all teach and learn for our good, and for the common good.

College students are taught to take instructions, follow the rules and keep their mouths shut even if they are being treated without respect.

I understand this is a high stakes arena, and I have no ideas on how to change the culture of higher education, but it seems that it is an antiquated system, to which an unequal balance is the key to its success.

One week before classes ended last spring, I handed out a magazine article for my students to read.

Hurriedly copying it right as class was starting, I did not realize that pages two and four were missing from the students’ copies. When most were done, and when I asked them to stop reading, not one of them disclosed that pages two and four were missing.

I was so disappointed that the students were so unable to express their needs for them to be successful by telling me that that the necessary pages for the day’s lessons were missing, that I had to stop and wonder what else during the semester that the students did not tell me about what they needed to be successful.

If ordinary Joes and Janes have the power to use their experiences to catapult citizens out of the legal system, or into the penal system, it should be that students are allowed to use all the evidence in light of your observations and experience in life to make the classroom a place of genuine learning for the students, the instructors and “the system.”

Anne Marie Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears biweekly Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com

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