Learning for Ourselves: A Reflection on Education

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As the year winds down and we all begin to panic as we remember the due dates of the semester-long papers and the final exams that loom in the near future, we think and complain almost solely about the performance of the professors over the course of the semester and the rigor of the work and assignments that rapidly erode our motivation as learners. Seldom do we reflect on our roles as learners or ask how we were responsible in learning over the course of the year. Did we take responsibility in our education? Are students responsible in the learning process? Is learning even a process at all?

We focus on the product aspect of learning, and not the idea of learning being a lifelong process. McDaniel College has a number of formal principles, upon which it focuses and attempts to instill in every student that rings in on that first day of orientation. To summarize, the school attempts to focus on the individual and provide a foundation and multiple approaches to learning. Most importantly, McDaniel College aims to give each learner the skills he or she needs to integrate into the global community, to be able to communicate and find happiness and success in whatever the next step is.

It is difficult, near impossible even, for students of our generation to view learning strictly as a process and not simply a product. Since we entered into the school system as children, we are rushed through on a conveyor belt, with the main goal of every class being to earn the highest grade possible in order to ensure our place in a higher, more superior academic standing the following year. As we entered college, our primary goal was to maintain a GPA as close to this magical numeral “4,” which we all seemed to strive for yet rarely understood. In the end, we endeavored to procure the degree that would guarantee that we earned a good job, got accepted into graduate school or achieved whatever our personal goals may have been.

Why?

What about this concept of numerical academic success drives everyone to disregard sleep in order to type long papers or sigh and moan and worry about studying for tests? Do we truly believe that a simple number out of 100 or a letter on a transcript is an accurate indicator of our education? I am graduating in under a month, and though I’ll be doing so with an impressive GPA according to our current standards, that is not what I am most proud of in myself. What I will be taking away from this institution is not anything I ever read in a textbook or heard in an instructor’s lesson. Rather, I am leaving forever with abilities that, unfortunately, many may never realize they have.

I think for myself. I question ideas that I see or read. I have an appreciation for cultures and ideas different than my own, even if I know nothing about them. I discover interest in topics and teach myself more about them independently. I am self-sufficient. I express my thoughts in manners that individuals of all different races, genders, ages, education levels and even languages can understand. I utilize my environment and the resources around me to accomplish the goals I have set for myself. Above all else, I am an inspired adult who will leave McDaniel College knowing how to improve my life and the lives of those around me.

This is not to say that grades and figures do not matter. They are essential because they are the standard that our society has accepted with which to indicate our level of scholarly accomplishments.

The idea to always remember, however, is that if we are to be truly successful lifelong learners, that number on our grade report is not what tells us how accomplished we are or how much we have developed the ability to learn. Our personal indicators for this vary; they will never be identical to another’s. That is the point. No person is alike, and we will never create a standard indicator of learning that properly defines each one of us. Rather, learning is a personal journey to figure out just how we expand our minds and how we can measure our improvement and our growth.

Learning is something that no one forces upon us, no matter how many degrees they may have or how many years in school they have completed. It begins with motivation and a hunger for more. Outside factors can give us that spark or that push. Others can give us tools and knowledge and inspiration and desire and resources and the means to new ideas, but that only extends so far. In the end, no one is more responsible for our own learning than ourselves