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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Edumacation with Calvin and Hobbes: My Final

Over the last 10 weeks, it has been my pleasure to add to the continuing discussion on education we have been having in this country. Using Calvin and Hobbes has made this experience all the better for me, and I hope that you have also found the comic to be as instructive as it is entertaining. I endear you to read more of Bill Watterson’s work; he will change your life.

This column has served, in part, to illustrate the problems facing public education in the United States. There is no one correct remedy, but I hope it is abundantly clear that without some sort of change, our country will pay the price. There are some issues that can be changed through either university or government policy: lack of funding, the length school terms and the availability of academic resources like advising.

But there are also cultural problems that need to be changed through a shift in educational thinking by students, administrators and teachers. For example, technology is here to stay, no law can legislate students from working on their computers, but if this means more distracted students, we will have to figure out a way to use technology to its capacity. The decline in intellectual curiosity is also a phenomenon that threatens to create an uninformed population. When people do not take it upon themselves to try to solve a problem, they allow it to go either unsolved or solved in a way that is not beneficial to them.

I recently had the pleasure to speak to a UC Davis class about what it means to be a responsible student versus an entitled student. This topic is good for a conclusion, because it represents the bare minimum students can do to improve not only their educational experience, but the experience of friends and colleagues.

Calvin was, by all accounts, our pick for an entitled student — an example of what not to be. Entitled students are a problem in our system today. I would define this type of student as one with an attitude problem, who cannot help but feel that by simply attending school, they should be rewarded or have otherwise unfair accommodations made for them.

Entitlement is a subtle phenomenon. I always laugh when I hear a student tell me he or she bullshitted an essay, and then, in the same breath, explain how they went to the professor to complain for a better grade. A responsible student would accept the consequences of their actions.

Responsibility can be seen in Calvin and Hobbes through the character of Susie Derkins, one of Calvin’s neighbors. Unfortunately, my strips have not featured her, but upon reading the comics, it becomes immediately clear to the reader that she is kind, studious and a great child. The opposite of Calvin.

Most importantly, a responsible student will be proactive in their learning. Susie reviews assignments multiple times and invests time in the material. In one strip, after Calvin finds this out, he and Hobbes decide that she might as well come from a different planet.

But what proactivity really nurtures is a love for learning. If a student really makes an effort to learn material, I can’t imagine why they would want to bullshit an essay; it’s an opportunity to show off what they’ve learned. School is generally considered to be a burden for most students, especially from kindergarten through 12th grade — college is a great time to break this trend. And if there’s any benefit to the quarter system, it allows for more classes and more opportunities for students to explore fields they might not have otherwise.

I suspect that if every student worked hard to be proactive in their studies, the value of education would increase even more. There would be more innovation and creativity. We might even find more value in the simplest of things. In the strip above, Calvin gets it right for one of the first times in this column: There is treasure everywhere. I’m hopeful that we can find it. Thank you for reading, and good luck on finals.

To share final thoughts on education with ELI FLESCH, you can reach him at ekflesch@ucdavis.edu or tweet him @eliflesch.

Graphic by Jennifer Wu

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