Thursday, May 24, 2018
There's a line in the movie "The Greatest Showman" that goes something like this: "Comfort is the enemy of progress."
Attributed to PT Barnum, that got me thinking.
I began to wonder if comfort might also be the enemy of learning, or at least perhaps a barrier to learning.
That's because learning is, frankly, uncomfortable. And, it's uncomfortable because we learn from our own mistakes. And, mistakes are, well, hard for us to accept because they show us that we are frail and have much to learn.
In my own case, I got to thinking that I might be trying to create such a "perfect" learning environment, so perfect, that I might be leaving my students with very little room for making mistakes. In short, if that is the case, then there is very little left for my students to do, and if my students aren't doing, then they aren't making mistakes, and if they aren't making mistakes, then they really aren't learning at all. My quest for perfect teaching might be crowding out learning.
Of course, it's important to inspire our students, to serve a role models of what it means to be learners, and to create optimal learning environments. But, an optimal learning environment might just mean a lot less of them watching, listening, and observing me and a lot more of me watching, listening, and observing them. That's really hard for me to do because, quite simply, I want to help them along, I want to speed the learning process along, and I want to make learning as simple as possible because I don't like to see my students be uncomfortable.
That's especially true in the bar prep world. Much of bar prep is focused around talking heads featuring hours after hours of watching lectures hosted by prominent academics. And, those lectures (and especially re-watching those lectures) can lull us into a false sense that we are learning. In short, we can get mighty comfortable while watching lectures. But, unfortunately, watching is not learning. It might be an important and indeed necessary first step on the way to success on the bar exam, but, I daresay, no one passes the bar exam by watching others solve legal problems. Instead, people pass the bar exam because of what they are doing after the bar review lectures. And, that is really uncomfortable, especially in bar prep, because the stakes are so high and we make so many mistakes along the way. In fact, because the questions are so difficult, it's hard to feel like we are learning when we are making so many mistakes.
That's where we can come in as academic support professionals. We can dispel the myth that learning comes "naturally." No it doesn't. As I heard on a recent radio program, no one drifts into losing weight (or gaining strength or developing any new skill at all). We have to be intentional. We have to act purposefully. So too with learning. We don't become good at solving legal problems by osmosis, by watching lectures, by sitting on the sidelines observing others solve legal problems. We become good at solving legal problems by solving legal problems (and lots of them). And, I'm pretty sure that those wonderfully rehearsed bar review lectures didn't come out perfectly on the first cut. In fact, take a look at any of the back scenes from any movie. There are lots of outtakes that didn't make the cut. But, without the outtakes, there wouldn't be a movie because, like learning, making a movie means making a lot of mistakes along the way. So, as we support our students this summer as they prepare for their bar exams, let's give them room to learn. Let's help them appreciate that none of us became experts by being experts. Instead, we became good because we recognized that we weren't very good at all in the beginning but we keep at it, over and over, until we started to make progress, until we started to learn. Of course, along the way, it didn't feel very comfortable. But, because we know that learning is hard, humbling work...for all of us...it's okay to be uncomfortable. So, this summer, let's help our students embrace the uncomfortableness of learning by being myth-busters, and, in the process breaking down the real barriers to learning, namely, believing that learning comes naturally for everyone but us. (Scott Johns).