The Last Test and Proof

oWlWUwkIf I were to ask, What should be at the center of our teaching and our student’s learning, what would you respond? Of the many tasks that we as educators take up, what, in your view, is the most important task of all? What is our greatest hope for the young people we teach?

In his letters to the young poet Franz Kappus, Rainer Maria Rilke answered unequivocally: “To take love seriously and to bear and to learn it like a task, this is what [young] people need….For one human being to love another, that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but a preparation. For this reason young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love; they have to learn it. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely, timid, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love.”

Need I say it? The curricula offered by our institutions of higher education have largely neglected this central, if profoundly difficult task of learning to love, which is also the task of learning to live in true peace and harmony with others and with nature.

Arthur Zajonc, The Heart of Higher Education

Image by Rainer Schmidt

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3 responses

  1. Wow. As an instructor in higher education, that hits me like a board in the face. Especially with all that is happening in our world. I am currently looking at revising my classes for Spring and I will definitely be printing this out and keeping it front and center as I make some of those curriculum decisions. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Too true that sentiments like Zajonc’s are often lost. Most students don’t enter college thinking that’s their goal, but I do sincerely hope many (most?) leave college realizing that’s what they’ve gained.

    I’ve been reworking my “about me” page today, and I included this statement about my teaching:

    “As I see it, my job as a professor is not just to act as the intermediary between students and the knowledge they are supposed to acquire, but rather to create opportunities for my students to become better people and better citizens because of the knowledge they are working to internalize.”

    Whereas this isn’t quite the same idea, I think it fits, because as students learn and grow and idealize in college, they do often realize that they love what they are learning, which is a kind of learning to love, too, right?

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