Dear Obstinate Learners
Sean Astin and Kevin Bacon starred in a film back in the late 80s titled White Water Summer. What starts as a rather innocent summer camping trip meant to help shape a few young men’s outdoor survival skills while teaching important life lessons, turns into a battle of wills. Alan, a teen more focused on sports, computers, and isn’t entirely excited about “roughing it” begins to butt heads with Vic, the lone adult leader of this wilderness adventure. Alan, played by Sean Astin, tries to use his wits and crafts several “smarter” ways of getting things done in the great outdoors, one of the more powerful scenes being his creation of a fishing trap, catching a horde of fish for dinner. Vic, the “do it the right way” leader, admonishes Alan for using his brains rather than his brawn, and after berating him in front of the other campers, he forces Alan to gut all of the fish himself (something Alan doesn’t seem excited about), and leaves him on a small island in the middle of the lake, telling him to signal when he’s done. Alan of course, becomes disgusted, and not only doesn’t signal that he’s finished, but sleeps outside in the rain just to spite Vic’s harsh “life lesson”. The battle between the two only escalates from there, to the point where Vic severely injures himself while trying to teach Alan another lesson. It then turns to Alan to see the entire troop safely down the mountain, using a mix of both Vic’s survival skills and Alan’s ingenuity.
Other than being a rather rudimentary and rushed description of the scene, it’s an excellent metaphor for how I see myself as a learner. It’s not that I want to be obstinate, and purposefully look for ways to “circumvent” what it is that any of my teachers have asked me to do (I asked my 5th grade teacher if I could dress up as an actual flag-pole sitter for our class musical about the roaring 20s rather than dress in a white shirt with a bow tie). I’ve recognized over my 33 years on this planet that I have a fierce independent streak within me, and quite often it shows itself in the learning environment. I want to learn “my way”, reflect upon and build new knowledge in ways that make sense to me, whether they mesh with a given assignment or not, and I’ve butted heads a couple of times with instructors who don’t seem to “get” that what I’m doing is not only helping me learn, but doing so in a much more personal and meaningful way than the assignment they’ve doled out.
That’s not to say that I don’t get along well with my teachers and colleagues, but when your 7th grade science teacher yells out across the room as class is being dismissed, “that’s another nail in the coffin, Rimes” it makes you wonder whether or not you should dial back just how independent you are.
So as I write this letter to any other obstinate learners out there, I say strike a balance! Work with your teacher, but just don’t accept assignments and tasks given to you by your teacher as the simple tasks they may be, completing them without question. Find ways that you can make some of them your own; find ways to inject your own personality into them. Case in point; this letter was supposed to be written as a letter home from camp. Not an actual camp that Alan had to endure under Vic’s leadership, but a virtual one. I’m helping out as a “Camp Counselor” for ds106’s Camp Magic Macguffin for the next 9 weeks (go bunk 5!), and while I was supposed to write this letter to those “back home”, I choose to write it instead as a reflection for those that might struggle with either obstinate learners, or for those that might be obstinate learners themselves. Teachers, please find ways to let your students add their own personality into projects or regular assignments. You might not always get the best academic work out of them, but they’ll be much more engaged in what they’re doing, and the good will you’ll earn usually pays off later when you have to ask them to complete a particular assignment the ways it’s written (because eventually they have to conform at least a bit).
So to all you obstinate learners out there, develop good relationships with your teachers, whether you want to or not. Those relationships will help you in the future. And teachers of obstinate learners, try to find ways to mingle what you need your students to accomplish, with how they want to accomplish it.
P.S. Camp is great! I already have several baskets woven and more leather punched money pouches that I have pockets!