In preparing for another semester, I am struck yet again by how very little I remembered from my undergraduate classes and, correspondingly, how little my students will probably remember too. In fact, once I give a test on a subject, it’s not uncommon for them to forget much of the material almost immediately.
The comedian Father Guido Sarducci makes this point when he proposes a “Five-Minute University” in which students are only taught what they will remember years later, and that only takes five minutes.
Perhaps in response, I have over time put less emphasis on students remembering details of what we’re studying and more emphasis on learning how to think certain ways. I try to spend about half my class periods reviewing theories of topic under discussion. In large classes, I have students watch documentaries and analyze them using the theories. In small classes, I have student collect their own data–usually by observing social situations outside of the classroom–in light of the theories.
Either way, it is my hope that by giving students practice in how to think like a sociologist, beyond remembering the details of sociological studies, that they will have something with them in the future. Who knows, maybe I’ll increase what they remember up to 10 minutes!