Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

Publications

The Anti-Lecture

Res Publica

August 2011

by Jake Ewing

In the fall of 2008, I began attending the University of Akron. By February of the next year, I had officially decided that I had made a mistake. I hated my classes. I hated the school itself. More than anything, I hated the person I had become since I started there. I needed a change, so I began to look for a school that I could actually enjoy. I no longer had any desire to be in Ohio. I contacted admissions counselors from Cornell University and Stanford University, and had begun the application process with each. It was around this time that I received a call from Marcus Gordon, the assistant wrestling coach at Ashland University, asking if I’d like to be a part of their wrestling team. Initially, I had no interest in transferring to Ashland. I wanted to be as far away as possible – Ashland University was even closer to home than the University of Akron. It was not an option.

The spring semester of my freshman year continued, and I was actively working toward getting out of the state of Ohio. Despite my initial dismissal of Coach Gordon’s offer, the thought never entirely left my mind. As I considered his proposal more and more, I came to the realization that I missed the sport of wrestling. I hadn’t competed in the sport since high school, but Coach Gordon still wanted me to be a part of the team at Ashland. The option suddenly seemed much more desirable. My desire to compete in collegiate wrestling outweighed my conviction to leave Ohio, and I decided to transfer to Ashland University and be a member of the wrestling team.

Once I had been accepted, the wrestling coaching staff suggested that I consider becoming a member of the Ashbrook Scholar Program based on my past academic record. They pointed to the prestigious history of the program, the high level of academic study, and the reputation of the professors involved with the program. At the time, I was looking for sources of additional financial aid that I could receive as a student here, so I was much more concerned with the scholarship tied to the program. In fact, it was the only reason I really even considered joining. I had no interest in studying politics or history before this opportunity presented itself. My thought process was relatively simple: All I had to do is take a few classes in political science and these people would give me money. It was an easy decision to make. I needed as much money as I could get, so I became an Ashbrook Scholar.

I begrudgingly attended the first event for incoming Ashbrook students, where I felt like I was wasting time that could have been better spent in the wrestling room. It was during this first discussion of Churchill’s biography My Early Life that I realized I might actually have some interest in the subject matter. I found myself answering questions and trying to develop my ideas through discourse with my classmates. This was an altogether different experience than the Chemistry lectures I had become accustomed to at Akron. This was the complete opposite of that. This was an “anti-lecture.”

In that moment, I became a student again. I was still a member of the wrestling team, but my priorities had been reordered. The discussions that followed were equally as interesting, and I knew that I had made the right decision coming to Ashland University. The way class is conducted here is exactly the environment in which a mind can thrive. As students, we need the ability to express our ideas and the opportunity to be wrong. This is when true education occurs. The lectures that occur in countless universities provide no such opportunity, but the “anti-lectures” at Ashland do exactly that. It was soon evident that this trend was not exclusive to the Political Science department. I now take courses in five different departments, with three majors and three minors. When people warn against such a large amount of coursework, I remind them that there is a difference between “coursework” and delving into a subject in which I am genuinely interested.

More than anything, Ashland University taught me that a professor speaking in front of a room full of young adults does not create a class. These lectures simply present information without investigating or questioning it. The memorization of facts, while it builds a useful skill, cannot be called an education. Lectures represent only the first part of a two-step process. The information is certainly necessary to the discussion, but is rendered meaningless without further thought. Indeed, the anti-lecture should be embraced by both students and their professors. In this classroom setting, students are given the opportunity to think for themselves, and arrive at individual conclusions based on their own work. Professors are given the chance to be exposed to an endless array of new ideas about an already familiar subject. In an anti-lecture, instructors see themselves merely as students with more experience. They too seek to reach their own conclusions based on careful consideration and reasoning. Whereas a lecture is a forum through which an “expert” can tell their pupils what to think, an anti-lecture is an opportunity for curious minds, both young and old, to investigate a subject in conjunction with one another. This effort is the true basis of knowledge.

When I came here, I didn’t really want to be an Ashland University student; I only wanted to be an Ashland University wrestler. I was justifiably unenthusiastic about listening to a professor give the same presentation she had already given three times that day to a room full of silent students. I had no desire to sit in a room for an hour, doing nothing but writing what the professor said aloud. Luckily, the lectures I was accustomed to at Akron do not exist at Ashland University. There is no lecture. There is only discussion. Ashland University is the home of the anti-lecture. College students and universities across the country would be well-served if they followed that example

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