In a Restaurant, You Eat

Albert* simply loved the new restaurant in town. It was posh and had great ambiance. In fact, he loved it so much that he’d go there by himself lest he be distracted from enjoying it by his dinner partners’ small talk. What’s more, he’d often go there and pay for the most expensive dish they had, but tell them he doesn’t want it. He’s simply sit for a few hours, enjoy the atmosphere and go home.

To most of us who read the above paragraph, something seems odd about Albert. Sure – a restaurant may have great ambiance, but its primary purpose is to fill our bellies. If not, they wouldn’t be calling it a restaurant, would they? It doesn’t seem normal for someone to go there simply to enjoy the atmosphere. If, instead, Albert had eaten and enjoyed his meal and come out thinking that was a great experience overall, we wouldn’t have thought him so odd.

restaurant-plush-seatsIn “The Luncheon”, a short story by the British author, Jeffrey Archer, a character observes when entering a posh restaurant: “… too many waiters and plush seats for my liking. You can’t eat either, but you can be charged for them.” He couldn’t have made a more penetrating observation. The primary purpose of a restaurant is to provide food, everything else is secondary, including the ambiance and service. You expect reasonable standards for everything else, but if the food was horrible, nobody would go there.

And so it is with education – Good education costs money, even though it may not always be money the student sees and touches. Much of it is paid for by their parents, the community, and the government. Even when students actually pay their “fees” for a course, they often forget that it’s only the tip of an iceberg: a subsidized cost, the whole of which is being shouldered by the government for them.

Of course, education has to be fun, and you’d also expect to have some fun times in your college life outside of class, but you wouldn’t go to college simply and exclusively to have fun. You go there for an education and have fun on the side, just as you go to a restaurant with the primary purpose of eating, while enjoying its ambiance on the side. When these priorities get inverted is when problems start to happen.

students-partying-hardSometimes I see promising students struggling in class because they partied hard the night before. They hadn’t taken the effort to work through their homework problems or come prepared after a required reading. I use this analogy to illustrate the importance of setting priorities right. I tell them that when that happens, it’s like they paid for something valuable and expensive, but chose not to take it. I’ve had reasonable success (measured by the improvement in performance or attentiveness) so far.

Often we forget the relative importance of things in life and need to be reminded. Isn’t it fair to expect that our precious students might also need to be? It’s so easy to let a new-found freedom get to one’s head that it’s important for mentors and parents to constantly remind younglings that there will be plenty of places and times to party down the road, but here and now, their first priority is to get their money’s worth of a good and solid education. It’s been paid for. I suspect my motivation spiels often work better when I remind them that we’re not here to stuff education down their throats against their will, but to simply offer them what they have paid for, to give them an opportunity to take what belongs to them. When they understand and realize that, sometimes I find they renew their commitment to claim what is rightfully theirs – an education.


*Names are fictitious, of course.


About andatfoothill

I teach at Foothill
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2 Responses to In a Restaurant, You Eat

  1. I like your post and think you’ve drawn an interesting parallel. The first thought that jumps out at me is that maybe we’re on different pages than the students when it comes to the “food,” i.e. what they’re buying. We know they or their parents, and the state, and society, have paid for us to help students gain knowledge and ability. I fear that there are quite a number of students, though, who believe what they’ve paid for is a check in a box on a list of requirements. The disconnect may be especially true of their general ed pattern; I think this broad interdisciplinary education is the most valuable thing we “sell,” but they only see the value of the check mark and annoying hurdle cleared.

    Maybe we should stop calling all these classes “requirements” and instead call them “opportunities” ?


  2. Opportunities instead of requirements – I like that Carolyn! Thanks.


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