KVOS Special: The Professor Looks At His College
- It's a difficult time for anyone between the ages of 18 and 21.
- They're becoming people, and up to this point in life,
- they've been dependent.
- They've been children in the home of their fathers.
- Very frequently, as with most of our students,
- they're away from home for the first time in their lives,
- and they're having to make decisions
- for themselves of the sort that were normally made,
- if not as a group, made in consultation with some one
- other person in the family.
- But it's a very, very hard time in life for them.
- They're expected to become intellectually mature,
- emotionally mature, and physically mature
- all at the same time.
- And the youngsters today, they come into your office,
- they'll often come to talk to you about their classwork.
- The professor learns at his colleagues.
- This program was edited from four hours
- of separate conversations, and has been
- arranged to form a dialogue.
- Participating are professors Katherine Carroll,
- Charles Flora, Arthur Hicks, James MCAree, Richard Reynolds,
- Herbert Taylor, Ralph Thompson, and Mary Watrous,
- all of Western Washington State College in Bellingham.
- They think that they are going through this alone,
- that the experience is unique, that no one else has ever
- gone through it.
- But this would happen, of course,
- I think, even to students, or even to young people outside
- of a college.
- It happens, however, without the kind of intensity
- that is common here.
- It is the nature, I think, of young people whose lives
- are changing greatly under the impact of learning to feel
- sometimes like odd men out.
- And all too often, if you cannot understand this intellectually
- and respond to it accordingly, you respond to it in outbursts,
- either a good-humored prankishness.
- Or sometimes, you respond to it in outbreaks of just plain
- out and out violence.
- I refuse to be very seriously alarmed about such an episode,
- for instance, as the smashing of a piano.
- Much as I love music and much as I admire the piano
- as an instrument of musical expression,
- I refuse to be very seriously disturbed
- by this little incident.
- It's a part of the nature, I think,
- of young people to let off steam.
- It has always been so.
- As an historian, for instance, I am always
- impressed when I am reading documents of the Middle Ages
- at the kind of hijinks that the students went through even
- For instance, there is a celebrated proclamation
- issued by the regent of the University of Paris
- back in the 13th century in which he
- warns that any students caught in the future playing
- dice on the high altar of Notre Dame Cathedral
- will be forthwith dismissed from the institution.
- I think it's natural, because I think
- an 18 or 20-year-old individual, a 17-year-old individual,
- a 16-year-old individual probably one of the main things
- they think about life is sex.
- Now, they're unable to realize their ambitions in this regard.
- So I think there ought to be some outlet for their energies.
- And this is one possible outlet.
- The value of extra curricular activities interests me.
- Some of the students seem to think of them
- as a means of release.
- The college curriculum, by necessity,
- is very well structured.
- And yet the student activities program in itself,
- by its very nature, is flexible.
- For instance, within a department,
- if a group of students are interested in pursuing,
- let's say, a foreign language, or a particular subject
- in biology or botany, that they can do this
- on an extracurricular level.
- They can go beyond what is done in the classroom.
- These tend to attract a minority of students.
- No, I don't think these extracurricular activities
- actually do siphon off any great amount of energy.
- They tend to give a forum to those students who have already
- marked out perhaps some professional objective which
- can be advanced by participation in student government,
- in the newspaper.
- I, on the other hand, I think that if they did not
- have student government, and if they did not
- have the newspaper, they would be most unhappy, because it's
- traditional to have these things,
- and they're convinced that they don't have them,
- they're missing something that's a proper right to have.
- But I don't think it does most of them an ounce of good.
- Now, in the social field, I suspect
- that social relations of college students
- become most difficult when they have to live in group housing.
- Many of them haven't had to live with large numbers of students
- in dormitories or in college housing.
- And problems of study--
- when you have large numbers of people, the temptation
- to socialize instead of study, if you're not
- inclined to want to be a learner anyhow,
- this is very attractive.
- You can always go off someplace, and talk to somebody,
- and have a lot of fun.
- I tend to deplore the system that
- presumes that each student must have a roommate or two or three
- I rather like the European system,
- where each student has his own room and his own private place
- to study.
- I think we pursue group activity ad nauseum at times.
- If a student feels that he does belong to an institution,
- he is going to do better in his academic life
- than if he feels he does not really fit in.
- A dormitory can go a long way toward building this self
- feeling that you do belong to an institution.
- I can remember my own dormitory life,
- and all the dormitory was for me was a place
- to get out of as quick as I could when
- I wanted to learn something.
- It interfered more than it ever contributed.
- Now, this might have been the fault
- of the dormitory I was in.
- It might in part have been my fault,
- the fault of the students.
- It might have been the fault of the college.
- I don't know.
- I don't think that dormitories, as I have seen them,
- are very conducive to the learning process.
- I think also, coffee shops are much overrated in this regard.
- I don't think that they are very effective places in which
- to learn.
- If they weren't here, I don't feel
- that they would be spending their time in the library
- or they would be spending their time in their biology
- or chemistry lab.
- They probably would be sitting in a dorm, or in the lounge,
- or on the stairways of a building,
- and I don't think that is really detracting
- at all from their studies.
- I think that the coffee shop should
- be a place where faculty as well as students comingle,
- and that the faculty member should see in himself
- the responsibility of using that coffee
- shop as some kind of classroom.
- I think it might even be wise occasionally for the faculty
- member to prepare for that classroom,
- and to go to the coffee shop with a particular series
- of problems or questions in mind,
- or even occasionally to bring something with them about which
- he can develop some kinds of problems,
- and then lead this discussion.
- In that sense, I think that the coffee shop can
- become a learning situation.
- I don't think they normally are.
- I think they're a waste of time.
- I think the primary function of a college
- is intellectual awakening.
- We've got to awaken curiosity about the whole great big
- wonderful world, not just the present,
- but the past world, too.
- The human being is a strange sort of creature.
- At infancy, as it begins to walk, talk, and become aware
- of the world around it, its curiosity
- knows no limits whatever.
- It will lead a child, an infant, into very dangerous positions
- investigating things that catch the eye and make a blunder.
- Now, we lose this as we grow older.
- We accumulate a certain amount of information
- and assume that that's all there is that we need to have,
- that there are limits upon what we need
- to get along in this world.
- One of the exciting things about being a teacher
- is to point out that the world is so infinite in variety
- that we can make a student awaken up to the idea
- that the whole wide world is there to be seen,
- to be investigated as an infant would investigate
- it, and perhaps get himself out on a dangerous limb
- in the process, hoping, of course, you'll come back.
- But you must go out and look at these things.
- How do we awaken curiosity in a student?
- Well, first place, I think the professor must surely
- be an example.
- He must demonstrate that he himself has curiosity.
- He must demonstrate that he has enthusiasm for his subject.
- And one of the ways of demonstrating
- that you have enthusiasm for your subject
- is to demonstrate curiosity.
- Now, these things are important that you demonstrate them
- as an instructor because the student is
- to assume very surely if you don't demonstrate these things,
- that there isn't anything in the subject worth demonstrating
- them about.
- For example, I could simply teach my subject
- as a fact by fact by fact account
- of how something happened.
- But in reality, I have done nothing but give the student
- a factual chronology, or a number of facts
- strung on a chronology, like beads on a string.
- The notion that you can package this stuff
- as you would sardines, and knowledge is packages
- of sardines is pure nonsense.
- What you must do in the classroom is having presented
- a certain number of facts, you lead the students to interpret
- what those facts mean.
- Indeed, it's, I think, a perfectly delightful experience
- to lead a young person who has some factual information
- through a logical process.
- And suddenly, a kind of awakening,
- and he suddenly feels, I thought of the idea
- that those facts sum up, you see.
- Furthermore, directly, I think you
- can initiate some of this kind of curiosity
- in asking questions, which I think
- is really synonymous, by demanding this kind of activity
- of your students.
- You can virtually order them to be curious.
- Not saying, be curious, now, but rather,
- you can set up situations where it
- is required that they come up with observations of their own,
- and that they postulate, that they ask questions that
- are their own, that they seek answers in ways that
- are their own, that they postulate solutions
- to questions that are their own.
- You can expect this of a student.
- I have found that when I expect this, I tend to get it.
- And I know that further, when a student develops
- the habit of doing this through being expected to do it,
- it carries on.
- It's not a one-shot enterprise that he does it here
- and then stops it.
- You can't turn it off that way.
- Once you've gotten into the habit
- of being curious about things and asking
- why this particular worm is located at this particular spot
- now, pretty soon it becomes an entrenched attitude
- and will carry on.
- But it takes more than just curiosity.
- You can be curious without having any tools to pursue
- the curiosity.
- You have to go beyond curiosity to the tools, to the media,
- to the independent study habits.
- And it's almost a habit of pursuing an idea until you're
- satisfied with the conclusion.
- And if you don't do this, you can
- be curious all your life about something
- and never get the answer to it.
- I think it is impossible to teach a course in biology
- in which the qualities of curiosity
- are awakened without their learning
- at the same time, the more mundane aspects of biology.
- My goodness, any discipline today,
- and the way that the information in a discipline is building up,
- you can't tell them everything.
- But what you can do is teach them
- a method whereby they analyze the materials
- of the discipline, and then turn them loose,
- and with any set of materials that come to hand,
- to use that process in interpretation.
- And it is actually awakening them to their own potential
- to analyze and to understand the information which comes
- to them from diverse sources.
- Not just from libraries, but from the experience
- of life itself.
- The notion that the job of the professor
- is to open up the student's head and dump
- in a lot of information is a misconstruction
- of the functions of teaching in [INAUDIBLE]..
- It would be a bad teaching at any level, kindergarten
- through graduate school.
- The main function of the teacher knowing the materials
- in his field is to set some structures
- within which the student may work
- to find new areas of knowledge for himself.
- I do not regard myself as primarily a teacher.
- A teacher, I take it, is charged with a much weightier
- responsibility than mine, and that is to, in some sense,
- induce, inveigle, force, or persuade children to learn.
- It is my test to take a given discipline,
- and in a series of lectures and/or seminars,
- to present this discipline as interestingly
- as I may and as authoritatively as I may,
- keeping up with current literature in the field.
- Let them learn who will.
- Let those attend who will.
- But those fail to learn or not attend who will.
- I think this is an intrinsic difference between a professor
- and a teacher.
- It is my conviction that if the professor has
- an enthusiasm for his subject, and not only
- an enthusiasm for the subject, but certain rather
- definite and positive convictions on issues
- raised by the subject, assuming, of course, that he does not
- try to ram those convictions down his students' throats,
- that he will have a greater impact upon the class,
- that they will learn more from him.
- They will be more likely to engage in a discussion with him
- than if he assumes a top lofty bystander's point of view,
- as though he were utterly aloof and indifferent.
- It's a great intellectual battlefield.
- I like to approach my classes in biology with the idea
- that I want to win every student in that class
- into biological science.
- This is the way in which I gather
- the enthusiasm I need to properly present that course.
- I want every one of them into that class, not just
- the bright.
- But I want the miserable ones, the mediocre ones,
- and the very fine ones to enter biology as a field.
- I don't really want this, because you
- can imagine how unfortunate it would be if they all did this.
- I simply want to approach it with that attitude.
- Well, I think that if all college professors entered
- every class with this in mind--
- imagine it in history, in anthropology,
- and in every discipline that a student is exposed to--
- that when it came time that he had
- to select a profession, that he would be in a great dilemma.
- He would not be able to say, I want
- to enter this discipline because Professor X was so very good.
- Instead, what he would have to say is, gee,
- I've had such fine instruction from so many people
- that I had better select a discipline that
- is more adaptable to my own interests,
- and my own personality, and my own abilities.
- I believe that the personality of the instructor is important.
- There are brilliant scholars who can't teach worth a darn.
- On the other hand, there are some teachers
- who are not as brilliant scholars who
- can guide, inspire, and sort of catch the student on fire.
- And quite frankly, I think that the best teacher
- has an obligation to try to set the student on fire,
- to challenge his imagination, to excite him,
- to excite his curiosity, and to lead him to something that he
- knew not of before.
- Professors in time come to believe
- that they are, if not demigods, at least the vice regents
- of the Lord on this earth.
- And their classes come to be posed with this in mind that
- make what goes in their truth, and much more
- important than what goes on in the outside.
- I suspect that most professors--
- certainly I feel this way concerning myself--
- are at times subject to the imperial madness.
- In our own classroom, we are virtually all-powerful.
- And we therefore come to believe what we say from the lecture
- podium, rather than realizing that at best, we approximate
- truth, that we frequently mutilate it,
- and that in any event, we don't know
- enough to be effective in some of the areas
- that we purport to cover.
- I believe that the teacher has an obligation to pursue truth
- and to tell the student, or to show the student, put
- the student on to, if only through books,
- what is generally conceived to be truth
- or to let him look at truth.
- On the other hand, the student can
- read much of the past in books.
- And I think the student wants to know what the professor thinks.
- The thing that worries me is that sometimes, the professor
- may expound as truth what he only thinks,
- and not let the student know that this is just
- his own opinion.
- I hate to see this kind of subtle indoctrination happening
- in the classroom.
- Well, indeed, of course, the professor
- does have a great deal of influence.
- He can set patterns of thought, can even by his example,
- set patterns of behavior in his students that will last perhaps
- a lifetime.
- And he's got to be very careful, I think, in his relationship
- with a student in order not to impress upon him
- certain patterns that might not really be desirable
- or might not be suitable to that young person.
- He can wield a kind of Machiavellian influence,
- too, if he wishes to.
- And it's done.
- It's done.
- Yes, I think there is a danger of forming
- a student in your own image.
- If we can imagine a college campus
- where there are 300 miserably poor teachers--
- granted, this is a theoretical situation--
- but 300 miserably poor teachers and one shining star,
- then I think the problem is real,
- that there will be a tendency for almost all
- the students to try and go into the profession of the shining
- I think that if you have a great many very fine professors,
- the odds of this kind of thing developing are poor.
- But by the time the student comes to college he is--
- and I think layman and professor are alike that we tend
- to forget this on occasion--
- a man or woman grown.
- He is not easily changed in terms of moral value judgments.
- A great deal of the ink that is spilt and anguish that
- is poured out over professors influencing the tender
- minds of the students ignore the fact
- that the Boobus Americanus Collegiansus is probably
- about as tough-minded an individual as ever come down
- the pike normally.
- Now, that they're not readily influenced
- by their professors-- that much more readily,
- they question what a professor says
- than accept it whole cloth.
- And certainly, this is true when the professor
- begins making pronouncements ex cathedra concerning
- manners, morals, mores, politics, or religion.
- At the same time, I think we have a heavy obligation
- to let the student know how we feel about these things.
- If we don't, there certainly isn't anything
- that the student can't get over in the library.
- Are you familiar with the study which the editors of Time
- did in publishing in the book called They Went to College?
- They addressed themselves to this problem in a chapter
- on the inculcation of religious, philosophical, and political
- attitudes and beliefs.
- Specifically, they asked the question,
- are college students changed in political belief
- by the effect of going to college?
- The editors of Time could find no conclusive evidence--
- indeed, very little inconclusive evidence--
- that the political beliefs of the instructors
- influenced the child at all.
- In fact, I think it is notorious that the Ivy League
- colleges, the overwhelming majority of PhDs instructing
- in the subjects are Democrats.
- The overwhelming number of the alumni, on the other hand,
- are Republican.
- And it's been this way for donkeys years.
- What it seems to me a good teacher
- does is to teach a student to respect his own opinion,
- but to be certain how he handles the facts as he reaches
- that opinion.
- Much of the teaching process-- and I think this is true of any
- discipline, and it's a kind of truism that will apply to every
- is to teach the student the facts by themselves are not
- adequate, but that the facts as interpreted by the professor
- are not the only adequate means of explaining
- any particular phenomenon.
- But that he must bring the totality of what
- he knows to a particular topic under consideration
- and reach mature and sound judgments of his own.
- I think in discussions of this sort,
- we frequently ignore the responsibility
- of the student in the business of academe.
- But obviously, the primary responsibility
- for any kind of learning rests squarely upon the learner.
- And all that any instructor can do at any level is hope to lead
- them in a path by which they can most efficiently do this,
- but they cannot make them learn.
- They must do this themselves.
- I think many students just take courses because they're there
- to take, and they have to be taken, without reference
- to, what am I doing now?
- Why am I doing it?
- What is it going to lead to?
- And they live, in a sense, from day to day, from examination
- to examination, from textbook chapter to textbook chapter
- without reference to overall learning goals.
- They have a saying in the student argot
- that I've psyched the professor out.
- I know what he wants.
- He'll give it back on an examination.
- Sometimes, college students begin
- to inquire of each other, who is the person who
- teaches this course from whom I'm
- likely to get the best grade?
- If they're swapping stories about professors,
- as they usually do, then many times,
- they are less interested in digging in and working
- for themselves.
- And they are, well, I won't say a social wrong,
- but I'll say that they're perhaps
- interested in taking an easier way out,
- particularly in some of the difficult courses.
- I think I would have to add, in justice, that frequently,
- classes get in the way of acquiring an education.
- A professor will require a student
- to do rote work in the classroom when
- the student would be better off reading books on his own hook.
- Sometimes, I think therefore, a student
- should rebel, particularly the very bright student.
- Here, I might point out the haunting fact
- that students who make the honor roll
- are rarely the brightest students in a college
- or university.
- The brightest student in a college or university, ever
- and anon decides that he will not study for a given exam.
- He instead will read a book, or write a poem, or go for a walk,
- with the result that he makes high B.
- And the grind student, superior but not very
- superior in intelligence, tends to make the A.
- But primarily, I think with regard to study,
- or the studies of college, his obligation
- is to bring into the learning situation as much effort
- as he can to learn to be self-directive in learning.
- I think that any student coming to a college
- is undertaking a type of contract
- with the society that provides the college for him
- and with the academic community to which he comes.
- He is admitted because he's brighter than average,
- and because he's done reasonably good work in high school.
- It is assumed that he is here to learn.
- I don't think we have the time, nor do we possess the police
- powers to force him to learn.
- Now, here we get into an interaction
- between professorial responsibility and student
- In many cases, we simply do not interest the bright student
- enough to cause him to put out the maximal effort.
- In many cases, on the other hand,
- demands of urgent biology, the social life,
- the desire to be a big man on campus, or what have you,
- get in the way of acquiring an education.
- As I look at the developments in the areas of knowledge,
- I don't think we're going to be able in four years of college
- to say that a person at any point in his life
- is now an educated person.
- You can say about him only, he has the characteristics
- of an educated person.
- But to say that he is now educated, no.
- He doesn't bear the stamp of educated.
- He bears the stamp of, he is now educating himself.
- He has the tools to educate himself.
- Because as knowledge expands in all areas,
- as more is to be known, as fields are changing rapidly,
- and as people have to be retreaded, if you will,
- for new jobs, this becomes an ever-increasing problem
- with our society.
- We have to acquire facility and acquiring new knowledge.
- And if we are not self-starters, if we are not
- independent learners, when we get out of the public schools
- or when we get out of college, there's no hope for many of us.
- We'll be obsolete in 10 years, or eight years, or five years,
- in some fields.
- We have to keep learning.
- The doctor has to keep learning.
- The teacher has to keep learning.
- The engineer has to keep learning.
- The citizen has to keep learning.
- There's no end to learning.
- So we can say now about the educated man,
- he is a man who learns, not he is a man who knows.
- I think it was Eliot of Harvard, who in an earlier day,
- once defined the proper process of higher education.
- And that was to lead the students
- through the charted fields to the edge of the unknown woods,
- and to say, this far and no further came your fathers.
- Now, press you on.
- [MUSIC PLAYING]
- (SINGING) Guarded all around by mountains
- crowned by Baker's dome.
- The Professor Looks at His College
- was edited from over four hours of recorded interviews
- with eight professors of Western Washington State College.
- This program was produced by Al Swift and John Spalding,
- and presented by the KVOS television
- department of public affairs in cooperation with the college.
- (SINGING) All hail to you.