11. The necessary posture of the learner is humility, the realization he has things to learn.
Right off, care must be taken so that “humility” is not reflexively understood to be lowliness, humbleness, or subservience. It certainly should not be confused with “humiliation.” In its true sense, humility is simply the understanding of oneself as one really is in the larger world. It does not imply stupidity or ignorance, nor does it assume an utter lack of understanding or preparation. It’s simply knowing which way the wind blows, and where one stands in relation to it. No adult student arrives at a college or university without significance learning and knowledge. No student comes devoid of the skills needed to ultimately make his or her way through the maze of baccalaureate requirements. Any student with the interest, drive, and humility to take up higher education can succeed with the help of the university faculty and staff.
That does not mean, though, that there might not be deficiencies and preparations that need to be “caught up” before college-level work can begin. In a few subjects such a mathematics and foreign language a workably-accurate assessment of student preparation can be made to identify whatever backtracking may be needed. Though these may seem to be set-backs, they more accurately should be seen as just part of the process.
Aside from the possible need to catch up when required, a successful student must be “teachable.” This means a willingness to learn, or at least the suppression of resistance against it. There are people–a goodly number in fact–who think they already know it all. Often, preconceived or merely-inherited notions or beliefs condition a person’s openness to learning. Many have built internal defenses that are called upon to deal with any challenge to their self-image as a knower. You know who I’m talking about.
[Here is the original article, "My Philosophy of Teaching" (opens in new window). For all the articles in this series, click on the Teaching Philosophy link below or under Categories to the right.]