It’s January 1, which I think is a day in which a lot of people try to think more intentionally about things in their lives as they start the new calendar year, so I thought I’d use this day to talk a little bit about secret learning objectives. People like to write about learning objectives in teaching. They like to talk about learning objectives very hierarchically or very sequentially. When you have done this and this and this, then we know that you can do this other thing. All very logical and straightforward.
But there’s a secret wild irrational side to learning objectives. Like any form of goal setting, learning objectives are a form of wishing hopefully. These are the type of learning objectives that you sometimes don’t even want to speak out loud. Perhaps what you want sounds a little foolish. Because they sound too simple, or they make it sound like you or someone else you value isn’t doing their job to train the students prior to this point. Maybe you just don’t think it can be done.
At the stroke of midnight, sometimes you want to wish for something grander, something more special, but you don’t know if you want to let yourself down. We all know from psychology it’s much harder to change behavior than just to wish. There’s a part of you that thinks that maybe, just maybe, what you want is kind of selfish. What you want is maybe for students to finally understand what you want for the students. Maybe you don’t write them down because you are after all a very reasonable person with completely reasonable reasons for wanting what you want. You don’t want people to think less of you.
Sometimes I wish that someone would hold a little more space for those irrational learning objectives, to hold back the floodgates of practicality just a little while longer. So I’ll be your librarian fairy godmother here, and give you this moment to think about what your secret learning objectives are, and in exchange you can be my librarian fairy godmother and I’ll tell you one of mine.
If I could teach students, and not be afraid, I would teach how to think and act with purpose. I would encourage them to live their lives with purpose, hope with purpose, and decide with purpose. If I had a secret objective it would be that the students would learn about purpose. Not just about the purpose of other people, but also that they would learn how purpose affects so many aspects of their lives.
College is a lot about pretending. We talk about practice sets, quizzes on knowledge, about the idea that there’s some sort later time in your life where you would apply all the things that you learn here. It’s more important to teach them that their decisions hold power, even when it feels like everything that around them wants them to believe that their decision are completed without that power. I think that there’s something even more important than the students knowing the difference between right and wrong, or always acting in the way that I instructed them to act. I want them to do things in their life with purpose.
I consider teaching a compromise activity, and I know to live on purpose is a lot to ask of my student. I know that this is one class and one semester, and people have to go through the rest of their lives. But that’s my selfish wish. I want students to think on purpose, research on purpose. In exchange I try to teach on purpose.
In 2018, let’s teeter on the edge a little more. Let’s imagine new worlds, see new possibilities, and give us all permission to dream with purpose. Happy New Year!