"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it
Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."
The above quote is often attributed to Siddhārtha Gautama, also known as the Buddha. Although he is not speaking about learning in a high school environment, this quote does a wonderful job of summing up the importance of self reliance through research and reflection on any topic one is interested in learning more about as opposed to simply accepting the status quo as the definitive truth.
So, you might be wondering, how does this relate to my students? One of the things that has always perplexed me when kids come into my class is how many simply rely on me to be their sole resource for information. In our childhood, we are naturally curious creatures who want to learn about and understand everything we come in contact with. As we begin school, that natural curiosity with trial-and-error exploration is often squelched and we learn that compliance and acceptance of the information we are provided will give us everything we need to succeed. Sit still, listen to the teacher, accept what they tell you as truth and you will do well in school. While such behavior is useful and necessary in some sense, I do not believe this serves the student's best interest in the long run. Often, by the time a student reaches high school after getting this message of compliance for the previous nine years of schooling, they have grown dependent on the teacher to serve them their daily dose of truth regarding each particular subject area without often understanding the implications or uses of that material.
Some of my personal goals for students are for them to gain a sense of independence and curiosity about my curriculum and the world around them. I want them to trust themselves to ask good, informed questions that extend their knowledge deeper than the curriculum requires, to explore new tools/techniques without being dependent on me to hold their hand every step of the way, and to use what they learn and experience to deepen their understanding of visual design techniques and game design. Doing so will help them grow into creative, independent individuals who think of innovative ways to use the tools/techniques that they are provided access to in my classroom. This requires constant reflection on what they have learned, whether it is information I provide them or information they find through their own curiosity and research, as well as using this new knowledge to create their own, unique and original pieces of artwork.
In order to do this successfully, students also have to realize that I may not always have the answer to their question, so they need to do their own research (even if they start by me pointing them in the direction to go) and then apply what they learn from it. It may not always work out as they hope it will, but they will always learn something useful from the experience. And, the ability to solve their own problems without relying on someone else is a skill that will transcend my class and help them well beyond their years in high school alone.
My favorite student interactions usually go something like this:
Student - "Mr. B, how do I do x?"
Me - "Why would you want to be able to do that?"
Student - "Well, if I can do x, then I can use it in my art/game/writing to make a better product."
Me - "Interesting idea...how can you figure out how to do x because that is something I have never considered and I am not sure how to do it."
Student - option a: "Well...I know student-y has worked with this software before. I could ask them."; option b: "I could Google it."; option c: "I could check the company's website/wiki/blog/Twitter to see if someone else has done x."; option d: "I could look through a magazine/book on the topic."; etc.
Me - "Good idea(s), let me know what you learn as others might want to know this information as well."
Often, they come back to me having found the answer on their own with a sense of pride and accomplishment in their ability to do so. They also tend to be full of interest and energy to extend their knowledge of the subject or tool even deeper. And, have used this acquired knowledge in an interesting and creative manner. They have now taken the first steps of self reliance, curiosity, and are becoming lifelong learners. I deem this a success!
I am a high school Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher located in Durham, NC with a focus on game art and design. This blog provides a place for reflection on relevant classroom practices.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer or anyone else associated with Durham Public Schools.