That’s What They Say: That’s How They’ve Always Done It

Gabrielle Klemt - 3B Geological
Posted on: March 13, 2019

How often in your every day life do you hear the phrase “That’s what they say” and accept it as a valid reason for almost anything under the sun? I myself am guilty of using that phrase daily to justify a belief, solidify a point, or sway someone’s argument. I think people tend to fall into traps of believing things have more veracity the more people have that same opinion or thought or whatever it may be. Truisms hold sway in our society because that’s what they say, and if they say it then it can’t be wrong.

I’d like to examine some of these long-used axioms and see whether we truly need them in our lives or if they’re actually hurting us. And I’d like to start with “That’s how they’ve always done it”. It’s similar to the phrase “it’s always been that way before”, which we see as an invalid reason to not try something new, but because it relates to a person and their habits, people think it’s fine not to challenge the way a person has always done something in the past.

We accept so many things that are bad, or inefficient, or wrong just because of inertia. This is something you will be especially prone to face in university, where at least once in your career you will experience a less than ideal professor about whom someone will tell you “Oh, they’ve always been like that, they’re never going to change”, and why? Well who knows why these people are the way they are, it’s just what other people say about them so it must be true. This prof, who it seems has been complained about for generations, will never mend their ways because they haven’t in the past. No matter how many great profs you have, you will always remember this one for how bad you thought they were. And you, too, will pass on the story that they are bad, have always been so, and will never change.

Now, I don’t know about yourselves, but I subscribe to the goal of life-long learning which is supposed to be instilled in us as part of our accredited engineering education. I hope that there is never a point in my life where someone thinks I am so stuck in a rut of habit that I would not even try to attempt change if it was proposed to me. It’s so horrifying to me that people could think I would refuse to adapt if it was hurting other people. And yet, this is a thing we perpetrate constantly about professors. I want to believe that I can help improve a course, that my voice has weight when I write my course critiques.

Saying a prof has never changed, allows that prof to stay the same even when it is detrimental to students. It makes the prof unpopular, it leads to lower grades, and sometimes it leads to collaborative assignments and students passing down answers from year to year. All of this is terrible in an institution which by its very nature must be innovating and improving how teaching and learning are done. It is true that many professors are content doing things the way they have done for the last decade or two, but I don’t think any of you have profs who use slide projectors anymore. I’m sure when PowerPoints were introduced, many profs thought “no thanks, I’ll stick to my slides”, but because change is inevitable, no one uses those anymore. And maybe that change was more rapid when students demanded it rather than when they sat passively by, reading faded wall-projected slides.

Students, professors, the university itself, we all lose when people choose to accept that something won’t change because it hasn’t before. Maybe faculties need to hold profs more accountable to their course critiques. I know some departments in engineering do more than others, and I know that engineering is in some respects better at holding profs accountable than other faculties. But they very fact that this belief of stagnation exists here is reason enough to sit down an make a change. So not only do I urge you to do your course critiques, but I urge you also to talk to your department about issues which seem never to change. Something can be done, we just need to make the effort.

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