Another part of our adventure in Human Growth and Potential has to do with our motivation to change and grow in the first place. I remember that for me one of great lessons of graduate school occurred when I found myself doing things less for extrinsic reasons (such as getting grades, credentials, the approval of professors, etc.) and more for intrinsic reasons (such as feeling the poetic pulse of life, burning passionately in the moment, etc.). It seems to me that graduate students often arrive with a strong desire to test themselves against one another -- to compete for grades, assistantships, favorable attention, etc. After all, being successful at academic competition is part of what gets someone into graduate school in the first place. Still, the real test of success in graduate school (especially in a course like Human Growth & Potential) doesn't lie primarily along the axis of measurable competition, but in the more subtle, more nebulous regions of one's becoming. And so, in Human Growth and Potential I've taken some measures to attentuate the usual carrot-and-stick motivations. For one thing, I've made it very easy to get a good grade. My comments on my students' papers are still quite voluminous, but without as much "critical" content. Instead, most of my comments are aimed at dwelling with my students where they are, and intensifying their struggles to become (basically, a Rogerian "Freedom to Learn" tack). My intention is to initiate an even deeper raison d'etre for my students than competing for my favors. By undercutting the element of competition I hope to invite my students to use this course as a chance to amplify their quests for own growth and potential in life. Basically, my hope is that my students will begin to sense and to live out their greater destinies, and to express their struggles powerfully in their papers -- papers written hopefully mostly because they care about expressing what really matters in their lives, and only incidentally because they need to fulfill courese requirements. This why I've been giving some curious non-instructions on writing the papers for the course -- non-instructions like these: "Start writing, as you probably will, because you have an assignment due. Along the way, see if you can cut to the heart of your struggle to grow -- so directly and so powerfully that you begin to feel an immense passion overtake you, and swallow you like a vast tide. Keep writing! Don't stop now! Yeah, throw the floodgates open wide, wider! Let your words pour out of you like a river raging and tearing at its banks. See if you can let your writing matter that much. Stay with what's important... your becoming... your potential burning hot, hot in your writing... feverish... smoldering... relentless. The point is to sound your secret language, maybe for the first time. This is your life, and now is the time to be alive. Well, uh... any questions?"
Of course, as one of my perceptive students pointed out, in taking this approach I'm making myself vulnerable; basically I'm inviting the possibility of an enormous slack-fest, where my students might use their greater latitude to be more disengaged (which would probably indicate a failure of this whole approach). But as we discussed in class earlier in the semester, any genuine adventure entails uncertainty and the distinct possibility of failure. In this sense, Human Growth and Potential is a real adventure (at least for me), and only time will tell what its outcome will be. Go back to Eric Dodson's home-page
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