Eliot was a chemist, so perhaps we should take his criticisms with a grain of salt. In the humanities, a good lecture class does just what Newman said: It keeps students’ minds in energetic and simultaneous action. And it teaches a rare skill in our smartphone-app-addled culture: the art of attention, the crucial first step in the “critical thinking” that educational theorists prize.
Those who want to abolish the lecture course do not understand what a lecture is. A lecture is not the declamation of an encyclopedia article. In the humanities, a lecture “places a premium on the connections between individual facts,” Monessa Cummins, the chairwoman of the classics department and a popular lecturer at Grinnell College, told me. “It is not a recitation of facts, but the building of an argument.”
Absorbing a long, complex argument is hard work, requiring students to synthesize, organize and react as they listen. In our time, when any reading assignment longer than a Facebook post seems ponderous, students have little experience doing this. Some research suggests that minority and low-income students struggle even more. But if we abandon the lecture format because students may find it difficult, we do them a disservice. Moreover, we capitulate to the worst features of the customer-service mentality that has seeped into the university from the business world. The solution, instead, is to teach those students how to gain all a great lecture course has to give them.
When Kjirsten Severson first began teaching philosophy at Clackamas Community College in Oregon, she realized that she needed to teach her students how to listen. “Where I needed to start was by teaching them how to create space in their inner world, so they could take on this argument on a clean canvas,” she told me. She assigns an excerpt from Rebecca Shafir’s “The Zen of Listening” to help students learn to clear their minds and focus. This ability to concentrate is not just a study skill. As Dr. Cummins put it, “Can they listen to a political candidate with an analytical ear? Can they go and listen to their minister with an analytical ear? Can they listen to one another? One of the things a lecture does is build that habit.”
Listening continuously and taking notes for an hour is an unusual cognitive experience for most young people. Professors should embrace — and even advertise — lecture courses as an exercise in mindfulness and attention building, a mental workout that counteracts the junk food of nonstop social media. More and more of my colleagues are banning the use of laptops in their classrooms. They say that despite initial grumbling, students usually praise the policy by the end of the semester. “I think the students value a break from their multitasking lives,” Andrew Delbanco, a professor of American Studies at Columbia University and an award-winning teacher, told me. “The classroom is an unusual space for them to be in: Here’s a person talking about complicated ideas and challenging books and trying not to dumb them down, not playing for laughs, requiring 60 minutes of focused attention.”
Holding their attention is not easy. I lecture from detailed notes, which I rehearse before each class until I know the script well enough to riff when inspiration strikes. I pace around, wave my arms, and call out questions to which I expect an answer. When the hour is done, I’m hot and sweaty. A good lecturer is “someone who conveys that there’s something at stake in what you’re talking about,” Dr. Delbanco said. Or as Ms. Severson told me, “I’m a pretty shy person, but when I lecture, there’s a certain charisma. This stuff matters to me — it saved my life.”
Good lecturers communicate the emotional vitality of the intellectual endeavor (“the way she lectured always made you make connections to your own life,” wrote one of Ms. Severson’s students in an online review). But we also must persuade students to value that aspect of a lecture course often regarded as drudgery: note-taking. Note-taking is important partly for the record it creates, but let’s be honest. Students forget most of the facts we teach them not long after the final exam, if not sooner. The real power of good notes lies in how they shape the mind.
“Note-taking should be just as eloquent as speaking,” said Medora Ahern, a recent graduate of New Saint Andrews College in Idaho. I tracked her down after a visit there persuaded me that this tiny Christian college has preserved some of the best features of a traditional liberal arts education. She told me how learning to take attentive, analytical notes helped her succeed in debates with her classmates. “Debate is really all about note-taking, dissecting your opponent’s idea, reducing it into a single sentence. There’s something about the brevity of notes, putting an idea into a smaller space, that allows you psychologically to overcome that idea.”
Technology can be a saboteur. Studies suggest that taking notes by hand helps students master material better than typing notes on a laptop, probably because most find it impossible to take verbatim notes with pen and paper. Verbatim transcription is never the goal: Students should synthesize as they listen.
This is not a “passive” learning experience, and it cannot be replicated by asking students to watch videotaped lectures online: the temptations of the Internet, the safeguard of the rewind button and the comforts of the dorm-room sofa are deadly to the attention span. But note-taking is not a skill professors can take for granted. We must teach it. Dr. Cummins assigns one student in each day’s class the task of not only taking notes, but also presenting a critique of her argument at the next class meeting.
This kind of work prepares students to succeed in the class format that so many educators, parents and students fetishize: the small seminar discussion. A lecture course teaches students that listening is not the same thing as thinking about what you plan to say next — and that critical thinking depends on mastery of facts, not knee-jerk opinions. “We don’t want to pretend that all we have to do is prod the student and the truth will come out,” Dr. Delbanco told me.
Such words of caution are deeply unfashionable. But humanists have been beating back calls to update our methods, to follow the lead of the sciences, for a very long time. One hundred and sixty years ago, when education reformers proposed training students only in the sciences or “temporal callings,” John Henry Newman defended the humanities as a repository of moral and cultural knowledge, but also as crucial disciplines for teaching a student how to think, “to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant.” Such a student learns “when to speak and when to be silent,” Newman wrote. “He is able to converse, he is able to listen.”Continue reading the main story
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs left behind a deathbed essay about how the "non-stop pursuit of wealth will only turn a person into a twisted being, just like me."False
In November 2015, a rumor began circulating on social media that when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs passed away at age 56 in 2011, he delivered a speech or left behind a deathbed essay about the meaning of life. One of the earliest iterations of this rumor we’ve found was published on gkindshivani.wordpress.com under the title “DID YOU KNOW WHAT WERE THE LAST WORDS OF STEVE JOBS?”:
“I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world. In others’ eyes, my life is an epitome of success.
However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, wealth is only a fact of life that I am accustomed to.
At this moment, lying on the sick bed and recalling my whole life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth that I took so much pride in, have paled and become meaningless in the face of impending death.
In the darkness, I look at the green lights from the life supporting machines and hear the humming mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of god of death drawing closer …
Now I know, when we have accumulated sufficient wealth to last our lifetime, we should pursue other matters that are unrelated to wealth …
Should be something that is more important:
Perhaps relationships, perhaps art, perhaps a dream from younger days
Non-stop pursuing of wealth will only turn a person into a twisted being, just like me.
God gave us the senses to let us feel the love in everyone’s heart, not the illusions brought about by wealth.
The wealth I have won in my life I cannot bring with me. What I can bring is only the memories precipitated by love.
That’s the true riches which will follow you, accompany you, giving you strength and light to go on.
Love can travel a thousand miles. Life has no limit. Go where you want to go. Reach the height you want to reach. It is all in your heart and in your hands.
What is the most expensive bed in the world?
Sick bed …
You can employ someone to drive the car for you, make money for you but you cannot have someone to bear the sickness for you.
Material things lost can be found. But there is one thing that can never be found when it is lost — Life.
When a person goes into the operating room, he will realize that there is one book that he has yet to finish reading — Book of Healthy Life.
Whichever stage in life we are at right now, with time, we will face the day when the curtain comes down.
Treasure Love for your family, love for your spouse, love for your friends.
Treat yourself well. Cherish others.”
Although Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, the above-quoted essay didn’t begin circulating online until November 2015, was not published anywhere outside of unofficial social media accounts and low-traffic blogs, and has not been confirmed by anyone close to the founder of Apple.
Furthermore, after Steve Jobs passed away on 5 October 2011, his sister Mona Simpson remarked on her brother’s final words while delivering his eulogy:
Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.
Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.
Steve’s final words were: OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.
While the above-quoted essay does not represent either Steve Jobs’ final words nor remarks he made (in either oral or written form) at any time during his life, his biographer Walter Isaacson did record Jobs’ expressing regret at the end of his life about how he raised his children:
“I wanted my kids to know me,” Mr Isaacson recalled Mr Jobs saying, in a posthumous tribute the biographer wrote for Time magazine. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”
“He was very human. He was so much more of a real person than most people know. That’s what made him so great,” he added. “Steve made choices. I asked him if he was glad that he had kids, and he said, ‘It’s 10,000 times better than anything I’ve ever done’.”
It wasn’t always thus. In the early stages of his career, Jobs, who was adopted, denied being the father of Lisa and insisted in court documents that he was “sterile and infertile”. He acknowledged paternity when she was six, and they were later reconciled.
Fact Checker:Dan Evon
Published:8 November 2015
Updated:20 June 2017