Not materials

Students are not raw materials.

Processing a raw material may not be easy, but at least it’s predictable. Materials are physical entities. They obey well-defined, (in most cases) well-known, invariable physical rules. You can examine the raw materials you are about to use in a manufacturing process. You can specify acceptance criteria which are unambiguously measurable, and they often consist of a handful of variables at most. If some particular batch does not meet these criteria, or if it’s not homogeneous enough, you can reject it. The batch itself does neither suffer, nor feel offended; it’s the supplier who gets to know that they must improve their quality control procedures. You can process these materials as you like; they will always behave the same manner under the same conditions. You control the situation.

Students are not predictable. They do not obey mathematical rules. I don’t think it’s possible, but even if it was, it wouldn’t be desirable. People are different from each other, and ever-changing, and unpredictable. And so they should be.

Thinking about students as raw materials that enter some kind of shaping process is a huge fallacy. I don’t think I have to add much more to the above arguments. If these arguments can be more or less accepted, I can hardly imagine anything more different from that description than a young, learning human being, which is not only involved in learning, but also in living. Which, by the way, has proven to be a much more difficult and less controllable activity, a real source of trouble. If only we could suspend it during the university years… (no, just kidding).

Besides, as said above, you can easily and predictably change, modify, and shape raw materials. But raw materials very rarely change you.

Definitely, item by item, students are anything but predictable raw materials. Think carefully about it and be cautious when you speak about goals, stages, activities, self-study. Since there are many corollaries to this truth. One of them: when you study success rates, take into account that students are probably the most important and complex variable in your model. Try to describe the learning phenomenon leaving this variable aside, and your whole work will be pointless. Don’t forget who the center of the university are (and the EHES usually puts a hypocrite stress on remarking this).



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