Apologies to David Brooks: Students Learn From People Who Love Them

My social feeds are circulating a David Brooks column: “Students Learn From People They Love.”

The piece cites research from cognitive scientists about how integrated emotions are with learning. The many comments on the NYTimes site wonder whether Brooks would have more accurately said “respect” rather than “love.” Probably, yes, but my read is that Brooks was trying to be faithful to the research and attention-grabbing, too. If so, love is the word.

I would suggest a variation: Students Learn From People Who Love Them. The danger in Brooks’ version is that it is easy for students to love people who are nice, who don’t ask for too much, who are fun. Not to mention people who are physically attractive! Which is most certainly not what Brooks had in mind. Students love teachers who eliminate ambiguity. But these lovable characteristics aren’t ones that help that students learn. Quoting Brooks:

children learn from people they love, and that love in this context means willing the good of another, and offering active care for the whole person.

Even in that quote, the love flows from teacher to student.

My favorite quote about love applies: “What’s Important to You Is Important to Me. That’s Love.” When we teach with empathy, indulging our students’ reasonable desire to understand the usefulness or application of the material at hand, our students will learn more. So much to love in that.

2 Comment

  1. Kevin McMahon says: Reply

    This is great, thanks Laura. That has absolutely been my experience in my decade+ in this career. My favorite love quote, and my go-to at wedding speeches, actually comes from Johnny Depp in a movie I can’t remember:

    There are four questions of value in life… What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.

  2. SJG says: Reply

    What is interesting about this to me is that when I hear faculty complaining about how AWFUL students are, I know these faculty are not successful in the classroom. Similarly, when I hear business operators complaining about how AWFUL customers are, I know these business operators are not successful in their business. Neither students nor customers are buying.

    Great post, Laura!

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