Stephen Smith is one of the most unique educators that I've had throughout my lifetime as a student. He is a Sociology professor at Brigham Young University - Idaho and taught a course called Sociological Explorations. He prefers that students call him Stephen, not Mr. Smith, Dr. Smith, or anything else, saying, "That is what my mother calls me, so if you think you're better than my mother, call be Dr. Smith, but you're not." Stephen, from the perspective of a student, isn't simply working for the paycheck, but cares deeply to transfer those things he has learned. Let me share some examples.
On the first day of class we found that getting an 'A' in this class would be much different than other college courses. There were a number of requirements:
1) We had to get perfect scores on a pair of projects (an annotated bibliography and a group presentation)
2) We had to create for ourselves 2 projects. These were not from a list with any criteria, but had to be something we made up ourselves, with his approval.
3) At the end of the semester, we had to present 1-on-1 with Stephen our 'A' portfolio and argue why we deserve to receive an 'A' in the class.
The class buzzed with whispers of students that signified a sense of dread, people already planning on only getting a 'B' or 'C'. At the end of this first class, Stephen asked everyone to get out a piece of paper and said,
"Write down everything you know about bananas."
I wrote down as many as I could think of, but was mostly curious why we would take such a strange quiz. While I sat in my next class waiting for it to start, I searched 'banana' in Google. After looking at a few things, I didn't think about it again.
After our second day of class, Stephen gave us another quiz.
"Write down everything you learned about bananas since yesterday."
Stephen taught us all that day that a natural curiosity and desire to learn will be one of the most important things that we could cultivate in our lives. There were 3 phrases that we wanted to be deeply engrained into our minds by the end of his class.
1) How do you know that?
2) Actually, research says...
3) Smoking Grandpa
The first two are pretty straight forward (and Stephen said it would get us uninvited to a lot of dinner parties), but the last may need some explanation. Stephen told us about his grandpa who was a rancher, a real tough guy. For years, he smoked and did so until he died in his 80s. He had been told that smoking was bad, but saw that his grandfather lived a long life. He pointed out that we can never let one experience or one situation shape what we believe about the world.
One of the greatest takeaways that I got from this class is the fact that so much in the world pushes us to be, as C. Wright Mills called them, "Cheerful Robots." That we move along a conveyer belt, like the kids in the above Pink Floyd music video (which we were shown in class). And though slightly disturbing, it should be disturbing to us that the world will take us and grind us into what it wants us to become.
Since my time in this class, I've become uncomfortable. I've become uncomfortable with the thought of sitting in a regular 9-5 job that drains my soul, just to pay the bills. I'm scared that I'll become "drunk with syntax, blind to semantics." I read that, and had no idea what it meant. I looked up definitions and tried to place them into context of the book.
I found that we as a society are so focused on rules and structure that we are blinded to the meaning of things in our lives. We allow life to happen to us instead of finding meaning, then allowing that to dictate what we will use our energy and time to build in this life.
As I sat down with Stephen at the end of the semester, we talked about what I had done to learn and invest in myself throughout the semester. After our discussion, I asked if most students in his class had already come in. He responded that out of the 27 or 28 students in the class, I was only the 7th to come speak with him (and I talked to him on the last possible day).
This class was invaluable to me. Not because it got me to understand a bunch of sociological theories or how to correctly cite sources or where to find the best research. It was the best class that I've ever taken because it made be question my perception of reality and challenge it. Many students in the class misinterpreted the message to be anarchy, to stick it to 'The Man'. But I gained the understanding that I don't have to settle in my life and transform into a cheerful robot. It brought to light one of my favorite quotes from Napoleon Hill,
"Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve."
My name is Brian and I have a voice and something valuable to say. I'm on a quest to discover myself and the world around me. Join me and together we can do good in the world.