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On learning in college…ah I learned one of my most important educational lessons in a humanities class at NYU. It wasn’t relevant at all to the topic of the course (if you are curious, it was a culture class on Russia throughout the 19th and 20th centuries). But it was a lesson I have seriously embedded into my thought process since. It was a statement my professor made multiple times in his lectures throughout the semester: You shouldn’t take everything your professors say as universal truth. Make sure to question what you are being taught!

It is amazing how few students I know actually put this piece of advice into practice. Before I go into a long-winded essay about why this is now the case (long story short, it’s likely because we’ve decided to study more “practical” things as opposed to things that make us re-evaluate ourselves, society, and life, and as a result, we don’t think as critically on a philosophical level as we could), I want to explain my rationale behind why we should be more critical of what our professors tell us during lectures.

Professors Are Not All-Knowing

I do not mean this in a disrespectful way whatsoever. Professors are touted experts in their various fields of study. Of course you should at the very least absorb all of what they say — remember, you are getting tested on it somehow! But there are some things to consider about your highly educated professors:

1) Professors have studied the topic so extensively that they become disconnected, in a sense. There is a high likelihood that they have become alienated from the thoughts that are the current reality put into practice because at the level of education they have reached, it’s basically become theory to them. That is why they encourage students to bring up current events, so you can debate whether what you’re learning still applies!

2) Professors do have a tendency to input their opinions even on the basics of the topic they are teaching you. Being aware of what their opinions are and what is universally accepted as fact is important for you to clearly understand the topic of study.

3) Not all professors are born to be teachers, and they do have a tendency to teach in a manner that might leave you in the dust because they have been so close to the topic for so long. They might get it, but the way they explain may or may not make sense to you.

Questioning Things is a Way for You to Grow

We can’t all grow up being drones that follow the status quo in society. If we all did that, there wouldn’t be technology in the world. There wouldn’t be great leaders that we look up to. People get ahead because they think critically and out of the box! Some things you should consider if something your professor says sounds confusing:

1) Bringing up a question that confuses you in class makes your professor understand that he/she has perhaps miscommunicated a topic to you. So they will rephrase, which will help (both you and other students who were too shy to ask!)!

2) Speaking up in class with help you with your public speaking skills. Think of it as a way to practice your on-the-spot articulation of your thoughts.

3) Questioning what an expert says helps you form logical reasons as to why they might be wrong. This in turn helps you with your debating skills (which can come in handy!)

4) You’ll get brownie points for participating in class. It’s a fantastic opportunity for your professor to commend you and remember you! (For those grade grubbers out there.)

A simple lesson that goes a long way.

Photo courtesy of UF Digital Collections via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

What are major lessons you’ve learned in college? Post comments below!