November 11, 2019

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Re: ‘Remember What It Means to Be a Student’

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To the editor:

In “Remember What It Means to Be a Student,” Colton Poore ’20 writes, “Over the past three years, I’ve felt that I’ve had my desire to learn sucked out of me with memorization, regurgitation and prayers of scoring at least the mean.” This is a result of a culture that prioritizes the measurable over the meaningful.

I usually have a blue shirt on. The shirt is clearly blue. However, as a professor, if I told Cornell students that my shirt is red and then gave them a test with one question on it — “What color is my shirt?” — 95% would answer, without hesitation, “Red,” regardless of whether I am speaking one-on-one, in a small group or in a large auditorium (just ask my students, advisees and anyone else who would be around to watch). I would tell them that we are here to teach them how to observe nature and to develop the courage of their convictions to explain their observations and conclusions using reasoning. Then I would ask them how a drunk would respond to my question, and would they all say, “Blue.” This would then lead into a discussion on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” in which he sings, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds,” which is based on the words of Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey.

Poore also writes, “It’s tragic that the world makes us feel as though we have to hide what we really love in order to fit in.” This semester, I am on sabbatical at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. If I asked students here the same question, 10% would answer “Red.” Ten percent is still too high. I am afraid that at the elite world of Cornell, we are teaching people to become test takers and not students. In a word, we are teaching students to be compliant. We are not heeding the warnings of Aldous Huxley, Marcus Garvey, George Orwell, Neil Postman and Bob Marley.

Prof. Randy Wayne, plant biology