Learning who you are

Since I am in school, the next series will be on my learning experience.

Towards the end of the winter term I wrote a rather difficult paper. I spent a full two weeks on the paper.
There were two incidents during the writing that worth some reflection.

The first incident was concerning the use of secondary source. I found in a book by a reputable author a piece of argument that was very appropriate for my paper. I knew I should confirm this piece of argument with another secondary source or consult the primary source. Thinking this is by a reputable author and being under time constrain I did not. It turned out that this piece of argument was not entirely correct. The professor who graded my paper did not pick it up. However, a friend of mine, who is also a professor, read my paper and kindly pointed it out to me. I did not really suffer any consequence but I knew I took a short cut and I failed in terms of thoroughness; perhaps integrity too since I knew what I should have done.

The second incident was similar. I read on a blog a related topic and found a couple of sentences that resonated with my paper. I did the standard cut and paste and started thinking there is no way I will be caught for plagiarism. Again, I knew I should not but I did. Fortunately, the guidance angel took over and I rework it.

These two incidents, one negative and one positive, are really minor incidents. They did not cause any serious consequences to me, so why am I writing about them?

I think these two incidents reflected a change in my learning perceptive. In my previous learning experience as an engineering student many years ago, I did plagiarized and I did “fudged” data. I even justified my actions by calling these “survival skills”. My years in the consulting business such practice are justifiable; just make sure you do not get caught. The business driven world of technology values pragmatism and the end do justify the means. The argument restated is simply “why invent the wheel again”.

Before I went off a tangent on pragmatism let’s return to my change of the perspective of learning. The difference is I now see a responsibility in my work. Responsibility is a sign of ownership. I feel an ownership towards the content and the manner of my learning. Previously, I went to school not because I want to but because I have to. So I was shaped by that perspective. I did what I did to achieve the pragmatic end given to me. I went to school parents, for my degree and for my job. I cannot say all that is bad because that was who I was. Now this is who I am. Ownerships reflect identity. The way you go through your learning experience reflect not just your ability but more so your character. If I take short cut in my learning then I am a person with the character of taking short cut. Learning is not just acquiring knowledge, in the process of acquiring knowledge you acquire or discover your character. You acquire through learning knowledge about yourself. Therefore, in your learning experience you have a decision to make: what kind of a person do I want to be? Learning is not just something you do; it is about who you are.

I came across these two lines from by Robert Frost in his poem “What Fifty Said”. (How appropriate)

“I went to school to age to learn the past.”
“I go to school to youth to learn the future.”

I went to school many years ago not certain why I went. I acquired knowledge and knowledge of myself. However, only many years later did I recognize what I acquired in my past. These recognitions took me on a journey back to school. Now I look forward, as if back in my youth again, to the future.


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