April 4, 2012
One principle of liberal arts education is the process of searching out mentors, instead of professors. What does this mean?
Many teachers want to “tell” the student what they need to know and what to think. It’s kind of a forced thing. The student has little choice about what they are to learn. This is appropriate in some situations. But if this is the model of learning all the time, it starts to become a forced march that is not enjoyable.
Hate of learning can be the result.
The purpose of the individual who knows more is to guide, not to direct, to inspire, not infuse. An unfortunate situation that arises, especially in high schools, is a teacher who may be uncomfortable with the subject matter who stands up at the beginning of class, writes the assignment on the board, and then allows the textbook to teach the student. This is dramatically different from the mentor who engages the student in discussion or who challenges the student to disagree because the learner is thinking and developing.
One cannot “teach” anything. The learner must want to learn. The most important roll of the mentor is to inspire the student to seek knowledge and wisdom. Many professors want to get up and hear themselves talk. Others are mentors and have a sincere and deep drive to inspire.
One of Mike’s favorite mentors in college was a botanist. Mike loves biology, but was very uninterested in the biology of plants. This mentor knew that most of the students in the biology class were there for pre-med or pre-dental majors and weren’t likely to be interested in botany. So he started his portion of the semester with all the lights out, fog machines in the auditorium, and jungle noises playing over the loudspeakers. He then started snapping his fingers once per second. The students were paying attention. He then told them that every second, a swath of rainforest the size of a large football stadium disappeared. He had engaged the students. He had laid the groundwork for inspiring these pre-med students to appreciate botany. Later in the semester, he showed up to class dressed like a bee, brought in his family’s pet flying fox, and wrote exams that made Mike laugh out loud.
One of my favorite mentors for my boys, who we discovered through Boy Scouts, is a neighbor named Dave. He has a wood shop and loves to have the boys over to make projects. He always asks them what THEY want to create and he finds out what things interest them. He has helped several of my boys make wooden swords patterned after their rough or fine designs. He is always positive, encouraging and fun.
Right now we have two of our boys in a Montessori charter school. They are not “lectured to” very much. Our boys have someone guiding them through self-directed learning activities and assessing their progress. We love this!
We can choose whether we want to be mentors to our children and whether they have mentors as their teachers some or all of the time. No matter what style of education our children participate in, we can always be on the lookout for mentors who can influence our children in positive and inspiring ways.
Some great mentors can be found in the public school system. Even though the curriculum is determined by legislators and administrators, these individuals go beyond the minimal subject matter and requirements, in the process making learning fun.
Great mentors can be found everywhere is we look hard enough…even on the internet!
The role for parents is to take seriously their obligation be the mentors and to find those mentors who will inspire students to learn, to think, and to develop into life-long learners and leaders in communities and families.
Can you think of mentors like this who have changed your life for the better?
Read more about how we educate our children in my Mom Essentials Stories & Education eBook.