Saturday, October 15, 2011


"We are always getting ready to live but never living." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is midterm and I have just finished teaching an Accelerated course. I'll start teaching a second one on Monday. What is such an animal? It is the regular semester-long course done in half the time. Sixteen weeks of work done in 8 weeks. Class meets 2 times per week for 3 hour blocks. Each class period equals one week of the regular semester. 2 class periods per week = 2 weeks of class material for every calendar week. Crazy you say? You would be correct.

Apparently we began offering this option for those 'returning adult' students whose lives are supposedly so complex that they cannot take a class during a regular semester. They can somehow manage 2 afternoons a week for 8 weeks, but they cannot manage one evening a week for 16 weeks? When you stop to think it through, it becomes clear that the logic just doesn't hold up. (Add to that the fact that I have NOT ONE returning adult in this course. It is full of 18 - 20 year old traditional college students.)

On the first day of the class, I told my students the facts: This class is the same as the class that runs the entire semester - it's just done in half the time. Half the time does not mean half the work, half the assignments, half the quizzes. It means all the work, all the assignments and all the quizzes done in half the time. You're not getting an easier course here -- it's the same course, just twice as fast. This means a minimum of 2 chapters a week, 2 quizzes a week, and 5 or 6 assignments per week. If you are taking this class because you think it is going to be easier - you are kidding yourself. It will be harder.

For a regular class, the understood ratio of outside preparation and work to in the class time is 2 to 1. (Some instructors advise their students it is 3 to 1.) This means for every one hour you spend in the classroom, you should plan to spend 2 to 3 hours studying, working and preparing for class - reading, writing, thinking, processing. In a normal semester class - this would mean 3 hours per week in class and an additional 6-9 hours per week outside of class. For an accelerated class this means 12-18 additional hours per week.

I took the time to tell my students exactly what to expect and then I advised them, with all seriousness, that if they were not prepared to do this work, it would be in their best interests to drop the course. None dropped. I expect to say the same things on Monday when my new accelerated course starts. I expect the same response.

For some reason there seems to be, among some students, the desire to get through classes as quickly as possible. It seems that they have begun to see the individual classes they are required to take as obstacles, rather than as opportunities. They see that class as standing between them and their goal. The end goal is what's important and the class is just some hoop they must jump through to be given the 'prize' at the end.

Unfortunately for many (a full 1/3 of this set of students) they will not get the prize because they did not pass. You read that right - one-third. This is not my normal success rate, believe me. I generally have one or 2 D's in a class and maybe an F, but all of those are because students chose not to come to class and do the work. However in this class - one-third. Clearly, trying to do a semester's worth of work in half the time is, for many, not the road to success.

I am concerned that this is reflective of a larger tendency - the desire to simply get through something in order to get to the next phase or step as opposed to experiencing something while you are
actually in it. I wonder how often we approach our lives like this - so focused on tomorrow that we don't take time to enjoy the moment we are actually living in. So focused on getting somewhere that we're willing to take any short cut to get there quicker.

We see the present as a burden, something to be endured in order to receive the promise of that golden 'tomorrow' that is out there somewhere in the future. Unfortunately, I think, the more we focus on that thing 'out there' the more we miss of what is here and now. In focusing so much on tomorrow and its preparation, we miss the absolute joy of the moment we are in. In attempting to short-cut the process, we short ourselves of the experience of our lives.