Arthur Chickering writes that helping “students deepen their understanding about reaching for authenticity and spiritual growth.. starts and ends with self-reflection and employs that throughout..”

To say the journey is all about self-reflection is restrictive and small. Perhaps the teaching and learning adventure dips into navel gazing from time-to-time and ends with light bulbs popping above eager young heads, but discovering the insights of other people who have gone before is not going to happen quickly. What if we first read the great thinkers of the past-and then wrestled with the questions and ideas we discover? An fruitful journey requires a shift away from the self to a focus on something greater and sorting through previously mined dirt to discover valuable nuggets of truth.

Standing on the shoulders of great thinkers in order to peer down the road a bit further than we could on our own two legs is a great way to start the learning process. If we insist on hacking a path through a jungle instead of taking paths already cleared is a sure way to waste our time and energy, clawing our way through undiscovered regions.

The Chickering quote comes from his book "Encouraging Authenticity and Spirituality in Higher Education."  Chickering understands the value of encouraging students to read great works. But his goal is helping them “evolve” their "own" answer, he writes. Applauding young people just for coming to their own conclusions about life is not adequate. Their answers may be weak or entirely baseless.  Learning to think critically will help them sort through which ideas are worth hanging on to.. even when we're not around to guide them.

It’s not just about whether you arrive at an answer but how you got there and whether it will stand up to criticism. Patting students on the tops of their heads, just for coming up with something they can call their own isn't teaching them to be thinkers and lovers of truth. Can they effectively defend their positions?  More importantly, can they live those answers?

Stephen Goforth