In high school, I was a high achieving student who knew how to succeed in academics. I could memorize large amounts of information and spit it back on test and quizzes, which always seemed to please my teachers, but I had not learned how to think for myself. It was never required of me that I form my own theories and ideas. As I began my college career, one professor challenged me to trust my own ideas and taught me what I should have been learning all along: how to think.
Upon attending my university I joined the Honors College. I expected to find more tests waiting for me through which I could earn a stamp of approval. Instead, upon entering my first honors course, I found a professor leaning back in his chair slyly grinning at us – no papers or quizzes in his hands. He had us rearrange the tables to sit in a large circle facing one another; he sat in this circle with us. And then with nothing in front of us – no textbooks, no outlines, no slides – he posed questions and urged us to discuss with one another. He wanted to hear our ideas. He wanted to poke holes in them and force us to patch them up with our own explanations. He wanted us to contradict one another, defend our theories, and provide reasoning for everything we said. He made us think. Never before had a teacher asked me my own ideas about art, architecture, literature, and history. I was no expert, only a student. How could my comments on the subject possibly have value? Yet my professor looked earnestly with interest into my eyes as I explained my thoughts. I began to trust my own ability to think.
As I graduate, I look back at my honors classes and realize their importance. I never once took a quiz or a test. Most of the professors refused to let us know our grades, wishing that they weren’t even required to rate us in such a way. My teachers cared about my personal and intellectual growth. I was not simply an empty head to be filled with information. They did not care if I could reiterate every date and name I’d read. They cared that I became more thoughtful, critical, articulate, and creative. I became a mature, thoughtful adult thanks to the honors college and to that first professor who gave me the confidence to think for myself and believe in my ideas.