Why do you need a hairbrush? You don’t have any hair!
I recently read a piece by Al Mohler (HT Chris Brauns) dealing with the issues of technological distractions and student learning, evidenced by college lectures being in competition with various other things students can do on their computers and/or phones.
(See also the professor who shuts down class if he sees someone texting.)
There were more than a few interesting issues raised, but one particularly stuck with me.
Josh Waitzken went back to his alma mater and sat in on Professor Dalton's lecture ("Mahatma Gandhi's mass civil-disobedience campaign following the Amritsar massacre") and was in disbelief regarding the students' activities.
"A few solely took notes, but many flipped back and forth between multiple windows: shopping on Amazon, cruising Facebook, checking out The New York Times Style section, reorganizing their social calendars, e-mailing, playing solitaire, doing homework for other classes, chatting on AIM, and buying tickets on Expedia."
Waitzken would later write an open letter to those students:
"I understand that your minds move quickly and we are all impacted by a fast paced culture, but do you realize the horror of shopping online while Dalton describes…mothers throwing their children into a well to avoid a barrage of bullets? What are you doing? There comes a day when we must become accountable for our own learning process…Take it on. This is your life. What is the point of neurotically skipping along the surface when all the beauty lies below? Please seize the moment and listen deeply to Dalton's final lectures. Close the computers. Stop typing madly and soak in the themes he develops…Learning is an act of creativity, not mind-numbing, tv watching passive receptivity." (emphasis mine)
I think Waitzken's understanding of why students go to college is flawed, which makes his advice misguided.
By way of caveat, I'm an educator and have been at many levels, having been a Sunday school teacher for elementary school students, youth, adults, and even senior adults. I have taught math and science for junior high students as well church history and preaching to seminary (graduate) students. Pretty much every Sunday morning I stand up and attempt to teach a wide range of people from God's Word, the Bible.
Through it all I have discovered the utilitarian nature of education. By that I mean that people learn for a reason. Education is a means to an end, not the end in an of itself.
Some study a subject because they enjoy the subject, so even their learning for the sake of learning is utilitarian.
Some study a subject to get a grade to get a diploma/degree to become more marketable to get a better job or whatever, to have a better car or house or spouse.
Some study to appear smarter or perform better while watching Jeopardy in the privacy of their own homes,
Why do you study a subject?
Whatever anyone's reason, I assert it's all still utilitarian.
I think the key is for each person to assess beforehand what function any course of learning will serve and approach it in that light.
In other words, I would expect a history major to approach the above mentioned lecture in a different manner than the football player who needs to check the box for that requirement. I would expect the electrical engineering student to approach that lecture in a different manner than the student from India planning on getting a PhD upon returning to the homeland.
So, while the behavior observed above may be disrespectful, rebuking the students because they're not fully devoted to the content is to misunderstand why they're there.
Why should the football player in his last semester before graduation who only needs a "D for diploma" necessarily fret beyond what is necessary to achieve his goals, since he has been drafted by the Cowboys and will still graduate?
I think Waitzken is being naive in presuming that his favorite class from his college days should be theirs, or at least important to them. I seriously doubt he approached all of his classes with equal zeal.
While teaching in the seminary and I first noticed students working on their laptops, I was tempted to be tender that they weren't affording the subject its proper respect.
To me the subject was important enough that I study it and teach it to others, because I long to see expository preachers preaching to change lives to the glory of God.
I think I can say that some of them are foolishly not taking (utilitarian) advantage of the course if they anticipate preaching regularly in their vocation, because that's a huge measure of their "success" and even from a "not so spiritual perspective," good preaching is a key to "climbing the ladder" in Christian ministry.
If they were spiritually minded, I would say that they need to remember the vital role expository preaching plays in the lives of the listeners as they are transformed by the renewing of their minds, etc.
Look, most professors thinks their course/subject is the most important. This is why professors of different departments can nearly go to blows over competition for required hours and funding.
To the students, I give the following advice: Don't believe the hype. Determine what your goals are and then assess where learning fits into your plan, or how learning fits into it.
If you need a "B" average in your major, then study harder for that than for your elective, though it may be more fun, assuming your goal is staying in your major, working in your field, etc.
What your goals should be is a discussion for another time, but you get the idea.
This is true of biblical and theological knowledge as well.
Why do you read the Bible? Why do you memorize Scripture? Why do you show up to work in the nursery at church? Is it to impress others? Is it to feel superior to others? Is it to obligate God or others?
I always teach and preach with the goal of changed lives to the glory of God, as I'm convinced that's our chief assignment, to glorify God.
I study for my own sanctification and for how my growth and knowledge might benefit others. I like to be well-rounded, but even my Bible learning is not for the sake of learning in and of itself, it's to ultimately glorify God, like a good utilitarian Christian.