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The 1%

There is a 1% group among our students. Instead of great wealth, these students have great intellectual curiosity. The problem is that we are so used to the 99% that are just trying to check our course off of their degree plan, who more often than not come to us with questions because they are too lazy to read the text, that we don’t easily recognize queries arising from true interest in the subject.

This was brought home today through encounters with three students who came with “1% questions.” One in particular admits he tends to come across as rather combative, but it is because he is so engaged that he questions anything that doesn’t fit in his existing framework, which can amount to, well, many questions. Yet, his motivation is from a desire to truly understand the material.

Between his demeanor and our jaded self-defense, he has had a very frustrating time in his coursework here. Once I realized where he was coming from, we had a very nice time discussing phase diagrams of binary mixtures. But it did take a little back and forth. I suggested that until they know him, when asking these questions of his instructors, he preface them with something like, “I was reading the text, but this topic doesn’t make sense in light of this understanding I have...”

Nearly all of us faculty desire these meaty interactions with students, yet our expectations of finding them can be so low, we don’t even look for them, especially in students that don’t initially impress us. Today’s interchanges are particularly ironic in light of yesterday’s post on Teddy—there are many diamonds in the rough among our students, if we will look for them.

And they are probably more abundant than a mere 1%.


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