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Student to student: cultivate an actively open mind.

I wrote this open letter--perhaps a bit of rant--to students and educators in response to the overly negative response to the only book all incoming students were required to read at my college.

I went to college a week early to participate in a program in which we learned about civic engagement, civil disagreement, and discourse. The week focused on listening to others, finding similarities on both sides of arguments, analysis, constructive critique, productive disagreements, and discussion. The activities we did, and the ideas and discussions we had because of those activities, were so much more enriching than what I saw in the general population of the campus, especially on social media, during the rest of the quarter.

We were encouraged to speak with an open mind, to listen instead of formulating our next sentence. We were not simply liking or disliking something, but discussing it. We were actively trying to get information about the topics and learn about them.

Because we had a space where it was safe to be open to someone changing your mind with something new, that week was an incredibly expanding and educating experience.

After that first week, I was really disappointed in the conversations that occurred during orientation week about our introductory reading assignment. A few students complained about the book, then a few more, then everyone was complaining, and soon the book and the author were unanimously condemned with no further discussion.

It doesn't matter what the book was--this practice of complaining without substance only closes you off to the material and to any kind of discussion. It creates a habit of not listening, and not actively trying to learn. These empty complaints came from difficulty in understanding, which does a great disservice to you and everyone around you, because it creates an atmosphere in which students are praised for struggling. It encourages the students who understand or enjoy learning to not do as well, to act like they don't understand, or to hide their successes.

Instead of encouraging all students to strive for understanding and for growth, this atmosphere creates a cycle that produces less learning, less understanding, and less discussion. Students aren't encouraged to get help when they want or need it or to discuss difficulties in a productive way.

There are far more effective ways of expressing difficulty with the subject matter, of struggling with the way it's written, or mistrust of the information. When you choose to leave yourself open and actively try to learn from anything and everything, it ultimately gives you an opportunity to grow.

We, as a culture, especially on college campuses, should aspire to improve education and praise active learning of all kinds.

By complaining about our text, its author, the writing style, its presentation, and the typo in the first chapter, you're not only setting yourself up for failure later in the quarter in this case (and many others), you've also completely missed the point of the book--that we need to be more aware of what's happening in our country and our world. It's simply calling for people in this country to be more actively engaged in our community. It doesn't matter if you agree with the authors' points, or how they demonstrate these points. That's not important in this moment. The point is simply that there is a lot going on under the surface in all aspects of our world, of which people should try to be more aware.

That should be a point with which everyone in college agrees.

In regards to those who complained about the presentation, the research, the length, the style, etc., why just whine about it? Create something out of those weaknesses you so readily point out. If you think it should be better, make it better. Don't think the examples relate to the idea? What do they relate to? How would you have supported the original idea? What evidence would you use? It doesn't matter if you agree or disagree with the idea. It's harder to support an idea with which you disagree, and you'll learn more from the exercise of switching sides for a moment. Think the book should have been only three pages? Write those three pages. Read them. Then learn from those pages what you missed while complaining about the length of the book.

Don't succumb to thinking only what those around you think.

Even if you agree, challenge. Converse. Discuss. It will, at the very least, enrich your understanding of why you don't like something, or why you do like it. It just might give you a much deeper understanding.

Of course, you will run across assignments that really are quite dumb and don't really have a useful point, but if you approach every single assignment with the mindset that it will be stupid and will automatically warrant complaint, you're not going to get nearly as much out of your education--whatever form it takes--as you would if you went into each assignment, topic, or conversation with an actively open mind.

Zoe Wright is pursuing her interests in social justice, writing, and theatre at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.
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Title Annotation:notes from the teenage underground
Author:Wright, Zoe
Publication:Voice of Youth Advocates
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2016
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