Monday, March 29, 2010

Stop saying "They Don't Teach You This In School"!

Twice in the past week I've run into a person that said as part of their presentation, something like "this is the stuff they don't teach you in school." In both cases, this was part of a presentation given at a school. Does anyone else see the irony here?

Okay, in some cases a person is saying this and they're not at a school. But you know what? If that person is saying anything that's really useful, before too long educators are going to notice, and we'll incorporate it into our curricula, and now it will be something taught in school. The very pronouncement that something "isn't taught in school" is self-defeating.

If it were just a matter of technical details, I'd leave it at that, but there is something more insidious going on here. When someone makes this kind of statement, the implication is that there are important things you don't learn in a traditional classroom setting. This may be true, but why? The primary reason is that you get out of your education what you put in, and that some things only come with experience, so students should stop waiting for their professors to spoon-feed them everything they need, and go out there and make learning a passion, and learn this stuff on their own.

However, all too often I think students take away an entirely different message: school is useless, your teachers are lying to you, the only real thing that matters is getting a "piece of paper," feel free to ignore all of your course content, what it takes to succeed is not hard work but rather knowing a few key "secrets" that take no effort. This attitude is incredibly damaging, especially to professors like me who are bringing their own real-world experience into the classroom setting and actually teaching the things that students aren't supposed to learn "in school."


Dagda (Brooks Harrel) said...

It's funny for me, just hearing this lesson from you in light of how I wound up learning it for myself.

Four years back, I was looking into pursuing my interest in game design as a part of my college education. In my mind your courses are a perfect example of what I was unable to find then; all that my search turned up was a small army of programs that would teach me to handle a video game's code or graphics. Most of these included a single introductory class on game design itself, always promising to teach things I was reasonably sure I'd already figured out myself.

I decided that game design would remain a hobby for the foreseeable future, something I'd do in my spare time while pursuing a more typical college education. But as my freshman year went on, my grades went downhill while my interest in game design blossomed into an honest-to-god creative passion.

I didn't consciously hold the attitude you describe, but I also didn't understand the point about education you're making here- until I realized I was "studying" game design far more effectively than anything I'd ever been instructed to study in school.

Part of me dearly wishes that I'd started studying under teachers like you back then; I don't doubt that my understanding of game design would be several years beyond the point it's at now. But on the other hand, this is *my* understanding of game design; maybe getting this far without a map means I'll be better equipped to keep forging ahead in the future.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Ian. Now I can make people read this instead of having to say it every quarter. I'll tell them to "talk to the link."

Ian Schreiber said...

Dagda: Your words are inspiring. I wish I had game classes and teachers who were passionate about the subject back then, too! This is part of what drew me to teach in the first place -- to be the person for today's college students that did not exist for me when I was that age.

One thing that really shocked me when I started practicing design in the industry was how much research and learning there was on the job. We had to study games, genres, TV shows I'd never heard of... so that when our studio pitches some game based on Desperate Housewives that's a cross between The Sims and Grand Theft Auto, one of us designers could actually put together a decent proposal!

And you just can't do that kind of research if you don't find it fascinating to just always be learning new things.

It's hard to convince your average 19-year-old of all of this, unfortunately, but I keep trying anyway.

Lewis Pulsipher said...

Someone pointed out that, for millennials, there is no "presumption of virtue" about institutions such as schools. That is, older generations assume that a school is there to educate, a hospital is there to heal, and so forth, while millennials don't assume that. They assume there are hidden agendas and less-than-worthy goals. That's their view of schools, and only individual teachers (or exceptional schools) can overcome that.

So "school is useless, your teachers are lying to you, the only real thing that matters is getting a "piece of paper,"" is hardly a surprising attitude. Unfortunately.