Ultimate responsibility to learn lies squarely with the student

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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