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The Elements of Learning

The Elements of Learning

James M. Banner,
Harold C. Cannon
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    The Elements of Learning
    Book Description:

    This engaging and helpful book is both a thoughtful celebration of the learning process and a practical guide to becoming a better student. Written by the authors of the acclaimedElements of Teaching, it is designed to help students of all ages-particularly high school and college students-attain their full potential for success in any area of study.James M. Banner, Jr., and Harold C. Cannon explore the qualities needed to get the most out of education: industry, enthusiasm, pleasure, curiosity, aspiration, imagination, self-discipline, civility, cooperation, honesty, and initiative. For each of these elements they offer general reflections, useful suggestions, and a description of a fictional student who either embodies or lacks these qualities. The second part of the book helps students understand the environment in which they learn, by focusing on such topics as teachers, the curriculum, ways of learning, and the transition from school to college. The core points of the text are reinforced by answers to questions that haunt students, as well as tips on what to do to become the best student possible. Throughout, the authors encourage students to consider learning as part of their lives and to be active participants in their own education.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12715-7
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 The Adventure of Learning
    (pp. 1-6)

    If you were the best student you could be, what qualities would you possess?

    You may answer that those qualities would include intelligence, mathematical ability, language skills, and practical expertise in studying and taking tests. And if you’re studying music, say, or dance, or art, you’ll say that you would want also to develop qualities of listening, bodily movement, and perception. Good qualities, certainly, and all helpful. But they alone can’t get you far. You also need qualities to ensure that what you’re learning will stick in your mind and senses and ripen into genuine understanding. For that to happen,...

  5. Part One: The Elements of Learning

    • 2 Industry
      (pp. 7-22)

      By definition, real students work hard. If you don’t work hard, you’re not a real student; you’re either a genius or a slacker. For most of us—people who have to work to achieve what we want and can’t rely on genius to achieve it—success in studying, as in everything else, requires hard, sometimes extremely hard, work. The good news, however, is that hard work brings great rewards.

      It’s the same in every field of endeavor. Even the most talented people must struggle to master the rudiments of their art, perfect their skills, and learn what they need to...

    • 3 Enthusiasm
      (pp. 23-33)

      Granted, the work of learning is hard for most people. Granted, much of it is no fun. But there are ways to make it easier and more satisfying than you might imagine, provided that you develop some of the qualities that can make it so. One of those ways is to become enthusiastic about learning, so that you find it interesting, stimulating, and even entertaining. And that requires particular, possibly new, ways of looking at what you’re going through.

      Despite its intrinsic difficulty, learning is like love. Just as there has to be some magnetism, some mystery, between you and...

    • 4 Pleasure
      (pp. 34-45)

      Because it takes hard work to learn, studying can temporarily drain all pleasure from your life. If you take it seriously, it keeps you from your friends and other activities for the time you’re engaged in it. And it’s frustrating. Sometimes you can’t figure out why you’re being put through the torture. After all, why should you study French or biology, math or history, when you don’t plan to use any one of those subjects after you graduate? Why are you going through all this “wasted” effort?

      You’re doing so because studying and learning can bring you all sorts of...

    • 5 Curiosity
      (pp. 46-56)

      “Four be the things I’d been better without,” wrote the notorious wit Dorothy Parker in an example of bad verse. “Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.” But she was wrong on all counts, even, we’re confident, about the freckles. Freckles and love may have gotten Parker into trouble now and then, but for a student those other qualities, doubt and curiosity, do the opposite. You can’t be without them. They’re your intellectual and spiritual oxygen.

      Your natural appetite to find out about the world can get you to consume mountains of facts. It can unfold the meanings of the world’s many...

    • 6 Aspiration
      (pp. 57-68)

      It is always hard work to study and learn. But it’s far more difficult to do so without a specific goal in mind—whether to achieve something never before achieved, to land a coveted career position, or to enter your chosen graduate program. If you just drift along, studying what’s prescribed, without investing any of your own determination and hopes, you’re unlikely to learn much or to get full benefit from the education you’re being offered.

      But simply having an objective in mind isn’t enough. For there are all sorts of reasons for studying. You can study to get good...

    • 7 Imagination
      (pp. 69-80)

      Our imaginations are in danger of withering away. Because television, films, and computers have made images so graphic and immediate, we no longer have to think of what might be; instead, we’re shown how it is. If a character in a movie is to be decapitated, the screen shows the guillotine’s blade descend, then the steel biting into the victim’s neck, and finally his severed head tumbling into a basket, as a gush of ketchup douses the executioner’s robe. In earlier days of the cinema, the same effect was achieved by showing the blade descend, then cutting to a shot...

    • 8 Self-Discipline
      (pp. 81-90)

      The worddisciplineconjures up all kinds of negative images: your parents sending you to your room for misbehaving, teachers making you stay after school for not turning in your homework, or a coach benching you for missing practice–ali of them unpleasant consequences by which your freedom is constrained. So you may think of discipline as an unwarranted limitation on your thought, conduct, and expression, as well as a denial of your welfare and natural self. And it’s true that a Hitler or a Stalin will impose discipline that’s illegitimate, unjust, and contrary to humane values.

      But in a...

    • 9 Civility
      (pp. 91-101)

      Civilityis a term that has gone out of fashion, and it now often carries negative connotations. That’s in part because many people who wish to make the term useful again have a particular meaning for it—sometimes coercive, often one-dimensional. They see civility only as an aspect of order. In fact, it’s an aspect of responsibility—toward others. Whencivilityis restored to its full meaning, which summarizes the virtues needed in a member of a community, its bad reputation melts away, and it regains its place as a useful term. For whether we think that the world has...

    • 10 Cooperation
      (pp. 102-113)

      In kindergarten and grade school, your teachers praised you for working well with others, though your cooperative skills then may have been limited to sharing a pair of scissors or a set of finger paints without starting an argument, a fight, or a free-for-all among those other five-year-olds on the floor. The products of the play you were engaged in—the cutouts and paintings—were very much your own, and little of your individuality had to be restrained or sacrificed to the needs of other children so that you could become the wonderful artist you were then intent on becoming...

    • 11 Honesty
      (pp. 114-125)

      You’ve been told more times than you care to remember that “honesty isthe best policy,” but seldom, perhaps never, has anyone tried to justify or explain the ancient proverb to you. Nor is it likely that anyone has ever tried to make it directly pertinent to your life as a student, except perhaps to emphasize the penalties applied for cheating or plagiarism.

      So what is it that makes honesty so powerful a principle of study and learning? You know that you can be dishonest and avoid detection at least sometimes, so aren’t there rewards, you may ask, for hypocrisy, that...

    • 12 Initiative
      (pp. 126-134)

      Learning requires you to take the initiative for your own education. Because others have helped you learn for so much of your life so far, you may have lost sight of the fact that at no point have they really been able to make you study and learn. Others have prodded you, given you incentives, and helped you in school; but they haven’t been able to open your mind to learning. Only you can do that.

      Everything you have learned up to now has come because you chose or decided to do so–because you summoned the energy to seize...

  6. Part Two: The Circumstances of Learning

    • 13 Who Teaches You
      (pp. 137-147)

      You were born to teachers–your parents. Your ability to walk, speak, read, and act with civility is largely thanks to those who guided your first step sand introduced you to a world of wonders and dangers. And beyond your parents and relatives, there were members of the clergy, athletic coaches, and doctors–all more experienced than you–who tried to guide and influence you.

      You were still young when you learned to associate the termteacherwith people who stood in front of you in a classroom and tried to guide you to knowledge. And possibly you came to...

    • 14 What You Learn
      (pp. 148-158)

      If you’ve seen the movieBen Hur, you’ve learned that ancient Romans enjoyed chariot races the way we enjoy football and basketball–with high intensity and studied excess. And from those Roman chariot races came our word for a prescribed course of academic studies: the “curriculum,” which originally meant a horse race.

      You may have difficulty relating a chariot contest to your experience in the classroom. Yet because a course can be thought of as a single lap around an arena, the metaphor is appropriate. Also, because athletic trainers and coaches are teachers of a special kind, to identify you,...

    • 15 How You Learn
      (pp. 159-168)

      The circumstances in which you learn often appear beyond your control. Your teachers call the shots in their classrooms and lecture halls — telling you what you must learn, assigning homework you must do, and grading the papers and exams you must complete. Evenwhen you’re away from them, you still feel their influence on your life. You have to dotheirhomework; you have to study fortheirexams; you have to preparetheirpapers and lab reports, play the music or act the scenestheyassign, sketch the objecttheyrequire you to draw. Is there no escape from their...

    • 16 From School to College
      (pp. 169-178)

      Many students complete their formal education with high school, and you may be one of them. Or perhaps you are going to postpone entering college until you’ve put some money aside or gotten a start on your career. If you’re not going on to college, at least not directly, you may safely ignore what we say in this chapter. Yet we think its subject worth your attention whatever your plans. Certainly, we recognize that going from high school directly into the world of full-time work and responsibility is a great and important transition, one for which as much preparation is...

    • 17 Some Final Thoughts
      (pp. 179-182)

      Throughout this book, we have urged you to be a student in the fullest sense of the term by developing and using some of the qualities you already possess. We have also done all we can to persuade you that employing these qualities is infinitely more rewarding than not using them and simply pretending to be a student.

      A line from Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” which we quoted earlier, summarizes our meaning exactly:

      Let be be finale of seem.

      In other words, we urge you to makebeinga student replaceseeming to bea student...

    • Back Matter
      (pp. 183-183)