Ultimate responsibility to learn lies squarely with the student

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In my column June 9 (“Personal responsibility is economically vital”), I deplored the marked decline in personal and family responsibility among our citizenry. We are privileged to enjoy a high degree of personal freedom, of free choice, in our pursuit of happiness.

But that privilege is associated with responsibility: To wit, if we enjoy the benefits of our successful choices, we must bear responsibility for the unsuccessful ones. In this relationship with society, there is a quid pro quo.

During the past 70 years, however, the political, social, media and academic culture has significantly altered this contract. You now may be compensated for your failure – indeed, even rewarded for it.

For example, in addition to benefitting from temporary moratoriums on home foreclosures, which translates into free rent, some foreclosed owners got further benefits when regulatory bureaucrats strove to find failures in the lending-foreclosure-administrative process. And some were found in the foreclosure procedure. In one case, 3.8 million borrowers received from several hundred dollars to as much as $125,000 from mortgage servicers who paid a total of $8.5 billion.

WHILE ADULT responsibility is vital in terms of long-run economic growth and survival, another factor may be of even greater importance: the responsibilities of children, of students, in this long-run process. Students must be motivated to improve their well-being by acquiring the essentials of a trade or a profession. Parents and siblings, friends and relatives, ministers and teachers may aid in this process.

Personal responsibility reaches out to include the incentive to better oneself, to improve one’s education, whether through schools or on the job. Contrary to the suggestions of many professionals, my education and my learning is my responsibility, not that of my teacher’s. Teachers, family members, friends or other professionals can provide assistance, but the ultimate responsibility for me to learn is mine. The buck stops here. Even with all of this motivational assistance, the responsibility lies with the child, the teenager, the young adult, the adult. Needless to say, reminding students of this truism often falls on deaf ears.

If, in addition to providing students with content, faculty members are given the added responsibility of motivating, inspiring, and incentivizing students to learn, we don’t realize the burden we place upon faculty members. This kind of pedagogy depends on the teacher’s skills, aptitude for interpersonal relations and imagination, in combination with discerning the student’s aptitudes, skills, maturity and innate abilities, a tremendous responsibility. But attempting to measure a teacher’s success in this endeavor through objective measurements is an even greater professional challenge.

ALTHOUGH EDUCATORS and educational psychologists have much hard thinking to do in teaching teachers to apply motivational skills in the classroom – and teachers do work hard at this effort – primary responsibility for providing motivation must lie with parents. Every achievement of the child needs praise; each effort to learn warrants encouragement. All of us appreciate recognition.

At the risk of preaching to the choir, youth need to know that learning brings rewards: The satisfaction that comes from understanding, the thrill of learning in accomplishing a new task, and the pleasure of acquiring a new step or plateau towards a higher goal. Learning is stimulating; it is fun, whether on the job or towards professional credentials.

That our school classes should, without diluting content, be made interesting goes without saying. Even though academic administrators join parents in expecting teachers to motivate students, they frequently forget that the ultimate responsibility to learn rests with those at the end of the chain – the students.

(The writer is a professor emeritus of financial economics at the University of Georgia. He lives in Aiken, S.C.)

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Young Fred
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Young Fred 06/30/13 - 04:47 am
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I agree almost 100% with this

I agree almost 100% with this letter. When the spit hits the fan, It is the individual that determines when and how far they will press themselves.

Encouragement can go a long way, even make a difference in “border line” cases. To paraphrase, “my future is up to me”. Our responsibility as adults is to make sure our young understands that truism as soon as possible.

But hey, I said ALMOST 100%

This:
“if in addition to providing students with content, faculty members are given the added responsibility of motivating, inspiring, and incentivizing students to learn, we don’t realize the burden we place upon faculty members.”

That is the job of faculty. Anyone can, in a monotonous voice present facts (and opinions) It is the job of teachers to “incentive” IMHO

And this:
“This kind of pedagogy depends on the teacher’s skills, aptitude for interpersonal relations and imagination, in combination with discerning the student’s aptitudes, skills, maturity and innate abilities, a tremendous responsibility.”

That's the difference between an “instructor” and someone just going through the motions of being a “teacher”.

Finally:
“But attempting to measure a teacher’s success in this endeavor through objective measurements is an even greater professional challenge.”

“BUT attempting to measure?!”
Yes it is a challenge, quite a challenge. But it's something that MUST be done, challenge or not. It is the career you chose. Do the best you can, you'll either cut the mustard or not.

I would like to reiterate - it IS up to the individual. And I agree with just about everything in this letter.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 06/30/13 - 08:09 am
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Real Work Motivates

It took me a few years out of high school to realize education meant success. I was a lazy high school student with poor grades, but became an excellent college and later graduate student. I credit the change to my real life experience working in a couple of factories and as an enlisted man in the Army right out of high school.

soapy_725
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soapy_725 06/30/13 - 08:50 am
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Motivate: to move, to arouse action. For good or bad?
Unpublished

Work needs to be done. The desire for respect. Desire to succeed. The desire to do something good. OR Greed. Anger. Hated. Envy.

avidreader
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avidreader 06/30/13 - 09:03 am
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To Riverman

Having read your many commentaries over the years, I can say that you and I have a lot in common. I was a happy C student in high school. I worked for a retail chain in Atlanta until I received my draft notice. After two years in the Army, I enrolled in college and used my veteran's benefits wisely. I loved college and prospered in its demanding environment.

Many of the kids I now teach are happy C students, but I always remain aware of their potential to succeed in the future (spiritually and economically). I never give up on them. Motivated scholars tend to fare well in spite of my instruction. Others require my efforts as a motivator and instructor. However, I am compassionate and enthusiastic toward all of my kids. They know that I love them and with this knowledge they gratefully respond to my many demands. There are a few who cannot be reached, but some problems are far beyond my control.

For the most part, kids are simply, kids. If teachers push the right buttons, SOMETHING valuable will surface. Sometimes, a teacher needs to do more listening than talking.

Then late May arrives, when the robed and tasseled seniors are preparing to walk across the stage. That once-wayward ninth-grader offers up a big hug and an endearing comment about some insignificant event from four years ago. And at this point, the teacher realizes the event was not insignificant. It happens more often than one might realize.

Ultimately, it is the student's responsibility to perform academically; however, it sure doesn't hurt to have few good teachers pushing the right buttons. Amen!

chascushman
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chascushman 06/30/13 - 09:35 am
3
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"During the past 70 years,
Unpublished

"During the past 70 years, however, the political, social, media and academic culture has significantly altered this contract. You now may be compensated for your failure – indeed, even rewarded for it."
Well said, this is what the democrat party is all about.

deestafford
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deestafford 06/30/13 - 10:17 am
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Risk. Reward. Responsibility.

These three are closely tied together, but unfortunately the governments at all levels seem to negate them.

Somehow, we have formed the idea in this country that people are not to be held responsible for their own actions. If something bad or negative happens in a person's life, it's the fault of someone else or society or what have you. If they do make a mistake, the local, state or federal government will correct or take care of it.

Have a baby out of wedlock? No problem. The state provides money for it.

Fail to feed my kids a breakfast? No problem. They get free breakfast and lunch at school.

Fail to make my kids study and do their homework? No problem. I didn't do mine either and I turned out all right. Look at me, I get this good government housing, food stamps, and free medical care.

We should let people fail as a result of their choices and then suffer the consequences of their actions. We have developed this idea that people should not suffer. I'm not talking about inconvenience. I'm talking about suffering and facing the results of personal actions by taking responsibility.

Hats off to "avid reader" for such a wonderful attitude and dedication. I'm sure if we had vouchers and school choice you would need an auditorium in order to have all the children and parents who wanted to have you as their educator.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 06/30/13 - 12:05 pm
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AvidReader, thanks for your

AvidReader, thanks for your service teaching all these years. You sound like one of those we all remember in a good way.

grouse
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grouse 06/30/13 - 12:41 pm
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This gentlemen lives in an
Unpublished

This gentlemen lives in an alternate universe, or at least one 50 or more years ago. He ignores the government handouts to Wall Street and the banks and other businesses and ignores the predatory practices the banks used on lenders. He ignores the fact that those of us with a college degree have found that it is no guarantee for a job. Responsibility, then, is shared. American businesses that thrive here should help the citizens here thrive and not send jobs overseas (and also pay their fair share of taxes). This gentlemen is a Ph.D, but even a first-year English major knows better than to start a sentence with "but."

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