Learning Skills

Defining Alternatives


Alternative Goals   You may think that learning by and large consists in doing what other people tell you to do. To a certain extent you're right; you will not find a person with a PhD who ever exercised anything other than unquestioning and diligent obedience throughout their entire college career—in fact, a PhD dissertation is largely an exercise in speaking slavishly what you're told to speak. The question, though, is do you really learn if you're told what to do. I spent years in college doing what I was told and then I spent even more years in graduate school slavishly doing what I was told to do. However, after an infinity of college, the only real learning experiences I can point to are the ones in which I acted independently. In the end, now that I'm much older and wiser, I have found that the most successful people are those that develop their own programs, their own goals, and their own learning strategies. It has not been trouble-free for these individuals, especially in college, for if there is any group of people addicted to rules and the unquestioning obedience of rules, it's people with PhDs, that is, just about every single professor that you'll meet.
   There is only one barrier standing between you and success: your inability or unwillingness to develop alternatives to the program you're being asked to follow. I don't care if you're obeying the rules or flagrantly disobeying them; often, resistant students are just as incapable of developing alternatives as the most slavish graduate student. Developing alternatives is a difficult and immensely creative affair. You can't simply opt out of the program you're supposed to follow; the creative and difficult aspect is developing alternatives in a class or curriculum that fits both your life project and the project of the class as well. This demands two immense achievements: you need to determine as precisely as possible what your life project is and you need to accurately and objectively determine what the project of the class is. If you think that's hard (and it is), you then need to find out how you can reconstruct the project of the class to fit your life project.


The Assignment   On this exercise, I want you to sit back and seriously reconstruct what you're doing in this class. First, you're going to need to define in highly objective terms what you conceive your life project to be and what education in general contributes to that life project. By a life project, I mean the central, productive project that you're pursuing. After you've determined that, you need to define as carefully and as objectively as possible what you believe I am asking you to achieve. Once you've got these questions answered, you're ready to develop alternatives to what I'm asking of you. This is the creative stage. You are to take one of the assignments that you've done recently and develop an original and alternative way of doing or accomplishing the assignment that more closely fits what you conceive of as your life project. This alternative must do the following:
  • This is a project about not following the rules. So when you reconceive the assignment, you must come up with an alternative assignment that does not do what the assignment is asking of you.
  • Your alternative assignment must fit in with the overall life project that you're articulating—in fact, it must grow out of that.
  • Your alternative assignment must still achieve the purpose of the assignment, that is, you must still be producing an assignment that will teach you what it intends to teach you. That is, you must justify your alternative assignment by fitting it in with the goals of the assignment.
Think of this as a three paragraph essay. In your first paragraph you are to articulate as precisely as possible (with concrete detail—no abstract mush) what your overall life project is as a creative, intellectual, and productive person. In the second paragraph, you have to define as precisely as possible the goal or purpose of the assignment you're revising. In the third paragraph, you must put the two together and radically revise the assignment so that it meets both goals.


You should submit your assignment
using WebUniversity
at http://webu.wsu.edu.



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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 4-6-97