Essay on Learning

© Charles E. Corry 1987


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While I was an associate professor of geophysics at the University of Missouri - Rolla in the mid-1980's, a student wrote the Miner, a student newspaper, about the quality of the professors he had encountered. His letter reminded me of an essay I had written some time prior to that based on my experiences as a student and I was prompted to have them print the following reply:


A teacher is what you have in high school. A professor is what you may encounter in a university.

A professor attempts to show you how to learn but no one can teach you how to learn, or force you to.

When you learn how to learn, you are ready to graduate.

Unfortunately, most of you will graduate before you do, and you will eventually feel cheated by your lack of education. The world does not stand still and wait, and you will be quickly left behind if you are not prepared to learn anew each day.

If you think it is possible for a professor to teach you how to learn, try the experiment of teaching a baby how to walk. A baby walks only when it is ready to walk.

A professor faces the same problems in trying to teach you to learn. If you are not ready to learn, you will stubbornly refuse, and blame your lack of learning on the professor.

A professor holds out a ring on the carousel but it is up to you to grab hold and clamber aboard. It is virtually certain that catching the ring will be difficult, frustrating, aggravating, at times seemingly impossible, and your delicate ego will be severely bruised in the process.

That is not the fault of the professor.

To rail against the professor because you have not quite learned how to learn is ultimately self defeating. The educational system then forces the professor to go back to trying to teach you, spoonful by tiny spoonful. The world advances faster than you can be spoonfed.

It is the duty of a professor to challenge you at the limits of your ability.

If you are not being pushed to your limits, you either are a genius and should move on to a point where you are being challenged, or your professor is sadly negligent in his duty.

A teacher will feed you pap and, if the teacher is worth his salt, you will have no difficulty digesting it.

A professor, however, will present you with ideas and visions. You may never properly digest them, but they haunt you. Problems posed by a professor work you into mental exhaustion and then wake you in the night because your mind won't let go of them.

When you seek such problems for yourself, the professor's job is done. For then you have learned to learn and the world forever after will be an exciting place of unlimited discovery for you.

The professor, though, must face the next class and try to show them how to walk that a few may someday run.



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Last modified 3/17/16