It’s a question that students often ask, and I always find it frustrating. “Is this going to be on the exam?” translates to, “Do I need to pay attention to this, remember it, and reproduce it later?”
I become frustrated, because I find the material fascinating, and I want them to love learning for its own sake. I want them to be engaged in life, interested in new ideas, without the incentives of reward and punishment. I want them to become informed citizens of the world, capable of engaging in public debate from a position where they truly understand their own minds on social issues.
But then I remember: they aren’t used to that. They’re used to the exam.
When I introduce them to the idea that learning new things is an important part of their development as adults, as citizens, as members of a community … I try to remember that this might be the first time they’ve thought about that. They’re not used to being judged on their ability to articulate an argument, or to thoughtfully explain both sides of a social issue. They’re used to memorizing facts, with little concern about their deeper meanings.
So I keep trying. I don’t give up. I pray that when they leave the classroom, some of the seeds I’ve planted will germinate and struggle upward to find the sun.
And they won’t need a number two pencil for that.