Comparing APPLES: Professor Defends 'Learning for its Own Sake'


Take a Chance on Me

The cover story in the September/October issue of the Review is available online to Carolina Alumni members. The complete digital edition of the Review also is available as a benefit of Carolina Alumni membership.

Your piece about the origins of the APPLES program in the September/October issue of the Review was enlightening and basically unobjectionable, but it also conveyed two very troubling impressions. The implicit comparison made between service-learning courses and non-service-learning courses had the effect of devaluing learning for its own sake. Your writer suggested that, in the bad old days before the invention of APPLES, students spent their time “listening, taking notes and spitting it back in papers and blue books” in their “insular” classrooms, sadly detached from what one APPLES instructor called the “real world.” Given this perspective on the pre-APPLES environment of teaching and learning at UNC, it’s no wonder that the blurb introducing the article in your table of contents credited the University’s “paying customers” — i.e., students — with demanding and achieving a more “real” and applicable form of instruction in the service-learning model.

The article thus makes two highly dubious assertions: That non-service-learning courses are by definition inferior to service-learning courses; and that knowledge is a commodity like any other, one that should be packaged in a way that pleases the consumer. This rhetorical conflation of consumerism with processes of intellectual growth, which has become all too common at UNC and throughout the world of higher education, not only misrepresents what actually happens in most of our classrooms but also discounts the special value that comes from cultivating the life of the mind.

As a professor of history, I refuse to regard myself as a shopkeeper who turns out a product (not that I have anything against shopkeepers or their products). I take it for granted that my students will “produce” knowledge in dialogue with other bright minds; they won’t “consume” it as they pass unreflectively down the shopping aisle of the directory of classes. Metaphors of the market have their place in our culture, to be sure, but when they reduce ideas to the level of the basest currencies in circulation, they are best avoided.

Jay M. Smith
Professor of history
Associate dean for undergraduate curricula


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