Tag Archives: learning

Season of Giving (Exams)


The end of November launches a holiday season in these United States, but for those involved in formal education it is also a season of papers, projects, and examinations.  Thanksgiving break does provide a break from classes, but not from work, as our youngest daughter bemoaned on her short trip home from college.  There is no rest for the wicked.  There are turkey sandwiches, sure, but no rest (yet).

Law school is particularly relentless.  The killer combination of a single grade-determining final exam and a pernicious grading curve that pits all-star students against one another for a handful of A’s produces a motivation that is not helpful for proper digestion.  If you want to experience stress with all of your senses, visit your neighborhood law library.

During this season of final exams, popular metaphors include heads down, noses to grindstones, shoulders to wheels, and so on, but not much related to actually looking up.  Unless looking up information or in desperation count.  From my seat in a law school, while I strongly recommend long hours and hard work, I also advocate periodically looking up for a little perspective.  Specifically, the following perspective:

Carol Dweck famously teaches the advantage of a “growth mindset” as compared to a “fixed mindset.”  For the latter, final exams are personal evaluations (i.e., I am good at this or bad at this; smart or stupid; etc.), but for the former, the exams merely reveal information helpful for growth and improvement (i.e., How can this make me better?).  And in case you are wondering, growth mindset leads to greater success than is ever possible with a fixed mindset.

This is a season of giving—professors giving assignments/exams, and students giving their very best effort—but the frenzied effort from the students is misspent if motivated by fear of failure as defined by a letter or number.  Instead, everyone is better off if the heroic efforts are motivated by the capacity to grow and learn.

Study hard, my friends, and look up long enough to remember that you are here to learn and not to be graded like cattle.  And learn well.  A real break will be here soon.

A Master’s Degree

If my ten years as a preacher count, and I vote that they should, education has been my day-to-day life for as long as I can remember. But education is familiar to us all, and I suspect that most of us have a similar picture when we hear words like “student” and “teacher” and “classroom”—and that picture is of learners arranged in neat little rows poised to have their brains filled by a knowledgeable instructor standing at the front of the room. Am I right?

When I was a preacher, I became particularly interested in the word “disciple” since the Christian Bible seemed to use it an awful lot. When I learned that the original word basically meant “student,” I thought I had a pretty good handle on that thought (see above), but it turns out that teacher/student/classroom in the Middle East a couple of thousand years ago didn’t look exactly like an American high school.

To grasp that picture, think “apprentice.” Instead of multiple teachers individually sharing various areas of expertise with a learner, picture a relationship where the student wants to become the teacher—to know what the teacher knows, to think like the teacher thinks, and see the world like the teacher sees.

Well, that’s a different show altogether.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking to my friends and colleagues in the Student Services Section of the Association of American Law Schools at our national meeting in New York City. My topic was mentoring, and I shared the following quote from poet, Ruth Whitman:

“In every art beginners must start with models of those who have practiced the same art before them. And it is not only a matter of looking at the drawings, paintings, musical compositions, and poems that have been and are being created; it is a matter of being drawn into the individual work of art, of realizing that it has been made by a real human being, and trying to discover the secret of its creation.”

A mentor brings great value to someone who hopes to be an artist, or lawyer, or preacher, or teacher, or butcher or baker or candlestick maker—just about anyone. A mentor provides the opportunity for a learner to be drawn into the mind and heart of a person to discover the secret of what makes that person do what she does.

Mentor possibilities are endless (and potentially affordable, too!). You could choose a specific living, breathing person with oodles of time for you. Um, then again, that might prove impossible. You could choose someone who moved on from this life and learn from that mentor through her writings, biography, or documentary. You could choose a combination of folks for various reasons, a “personal board of directors” as I’ve heard it called.

I am not proposing a complete overhaul of the American educational system. My thought is that we shouldn’t limit our education to simply extracting information from people we call teachers. People do that from hostages! Crawl deeper into the day-to-day mind and heart of someone who lived (or is living) this life well. And learn.

Time to Learn

I have a recurring dream where I am in a school hallway searching for my locker. Everyone else is safely scurrying into the proper classroom, and the air is thick with anticipation for the tardy bell, but I cannot find my locker. My mind is racing to remember the number while my eyes fly back and forth across the expanse of puke green metal rectangles as if watching a world-class table tennis match, hoping that something will trigger which one is my locker, but all hope is apparently lost. I suddenly remember that there was a locker assignment list posted on a bulletin board on the first day of classes, so I race to the wrong bulletin board a time or two or five or at least to one where the anxious search through names and numbers reveals no clues as to the location of the lost locker. The tardy bell is simply taunting me now, threatening to pierce the silence of the hallway at any moment and ruin me.

It is a terrible dream.

Sometimes I find my locker, or maybe I do. At least I am at a locker, fumbling with a combination, clearly not remembering anything helpful. Or maybe God likes me after all and I both find and open my locker but then cannot remember my class schedule and/or which books to take to class and/or if I even have the right books and/or what day it is in the first place.

Welcome back to school, boys and girls. May it haunt you for as long as it has haunted me.


Other than the occasional traumatic nightmare, I am generally a happy person who likes school so much that it is now my place of employment. If you count about a decade when my first day of school role was simply as dad, I have now participated in a first day of school since 1975; in fact, I cannot remember a year without one, and there is no end in sight. At my place of work, today is the 2015 version of that tradition. It is going to be awesome.

We call it Launch Week now, and we are going to blow the minds of these students and not just because we will assign them lockers today. They are in for a life-changing week (and year), and I could not be more excited.

That recurring nightmare reminds me on a semi-regular basis that formal education has the potential to be a teensy bit psychologically disturbing what with teaching us how it feels to be last or late or lost. But, my oh my, the potential upside is so fantastic that even if I could find the words I’d be afraid to write them because their intense goodness might just explode and leave an awful mess.

Welcome back to school everyone, and in particular welcome to the Pepperdine University School of Law you budding lawyers. Together, we will laugh and cry and question and dream and love and argue and struggle and hope and disagree and grow and encounter new people and ideas and friends and challenges and be better from the experience.

Today is one of my happiest days. May you, too, regardless of your station in life this fine day, seek the opportunity to learn in community.