But two of the student lines he listed —Do I need to know this? and This course wasn't relevant —don't strike me as just 'making excuses'. I'm even a bit sympathetic to them!
Dutch makes some fair points about these student lines: that students focused on the now often don't know what will prove relevant, that there's not much you absolutely have to know if you're simply trying to survive but a whole lot you need to know if you're trying to flourish, and so on.
But Do I need to know this? and This course wasn't relevant are 'hot button' because they offend us as instructors. And you can see why. Do they make you launch into this interior monologue?
What does some inexperienced kid know about what's relevant? That's what they're being educated for — to learn what's important, what's worth knowing. And here I am, an expert in my field — I know damn well that what I teach is 'relevant' and worth knowing.The charge of irrelevance or insignificance cuts deep for us academic types. But I think we need to get less prickly about student requests to show why what we're trying to help them learn matters or benefits them. Doubtless some students use these lines as a form of sour grapes, to dismiss what they do not understand or have not mastered. But it's not an unreasonable question for students to ask: You want me to learn this, but what for?
And like too many, Dutch appears to not recognize that learning is an act suffused with emotional flavor: that it's not a purely cognitive exercise where success or failure depend purely on what you do with your intellect. Your motivation to learn, take risks, circumvent adversity, etc., depend on your emotional relationship to what you're being taught. Plenty of research supports the claim that illustrating to students the relevance of what's being taught motivates them to learn and to learn more effectively. Yes, Do I need to know this? and This course wasn't relevant are sometimes nothing more than 'lines' students use. But we should not let this obscure the fact that they are also requests that we should not disregard if we actually care about helping them as learners.