the more things change...

From the "What may you expect to 'get' from the program?" section of the UF Honors Program Student Handbook, 1985 edition (recently uncovered in some boxes in storage): "Perhaps more important, however, are the less tangible benefits.  In the long run the most lasting reward for an Honors student may be the satisfaction of having studied with excellent professors, having been stimulated by the best students who have been your associates both in and out of class, and having met and overcome intellectual challenges."

The more things change, the more things stay the same...

To me, the passage above is exactly why one should want to be in the Honors Program.  For the atmosphere.  For the intellectual engagement.  For the opportunities the staff can help you find and take advantage of.  Not because you've "always been an honors student" or because you think it will look good.

It's Preview time on campus, which means that about 6000 new students are invading Gainesville to register for classes, get their university common reading program books, have their Gator 1 cards made; you know, all the fun stuff you do at summer orientation.  The incoming Honors students are put into one cohort, and at 9:30 a.m. on each session's day 1, I walk over to the Union with one of the program's advisors to give some words of welcome.  I never plan these, and their tone varies depending on how much coffee I may or may not have had or by how angry I am at the local school board's decision to implement a uniform policy (and that's all I have to say about that).

Anyway, being a little uniform-angry and caffeine-deprived this morning, my remarks took a slightly darker tone.  I asked the assembled group why they were coming to college.  Blank stares.  Really, no good reasons?  One student said to get out of her parents' house.  That's fine; I understand that reason.  So I launched into my philosophy of why one should go to college, and before I knew it I was exhorting them to not go through the experience with blinders on, narrowly focused on maintaining that perfect GPA so they can get into medical school.  I found myself talking about failure a lot, and how they shouldn't be afraid of making a mistake once in a while, and that perhaps they might be better positioned for life and professional/graduate school with a well-rounded 3.8 rather than a standard narrow pre-med 4.0.  I spoke about taking some intellectual risks and stepping outside comfort zones and visiting the art museum.  And as I walked back to Hume I couldn't help thinking that while I meant everything I said, that maybe it was a little confusing.

When I began graduate school, the math department at Duke was implementing a new kind of calculus course.  It involved a lot of project-based work in which students would have to write lab reports (like a chemistry lab).  I was a TA for this my first semester, and I discovered that the students hated it.  I don't think it was a bad idea, but it was just completely foreign to them.  They were not at all used to learning mathematics this way and so they resisted, at least passively.  The truth is that I found it weird, too, and I think it came through in my teaching style.  I only lasted one semester as a TA for that course; I got moved over to the more traditional courses in the spring.

So I think my spiel this morning was a bit like that calculus experience.  Today's students are molded into a certain mode of thinking, one of constant achievement and documentation of said achievement.  Suggesting to them that maybe they shouldn't worry so much about those types of measures is completely foreign to them, and as I've pondered this all day I wonder if I wasn't making a mistake with my pontifications.

But then I remembered that there were a few smiles in the room, and as a professor (which is what I am in the end) I've learned that's the best you can hope for.  So, come next Monday, it's once more unto the breach.  I'll never get the message across if I don't keep putting it out there.