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Some very good books are worth reading for a few splendid pages alone. Ken Bain's What the Best College Students Do is one such book. His interview with the TV satirist Stephen Colbert is revealing both for its insight into Colbert and for its ideas on how higher education ought to work… What the Best College Students Do combines interviews with a review of academic research on university learning. The book builds on Bain's 2004 bestseller, What the Best College Teachers Do. To some extent, both books state what we already know—that straight A's are nice, but hardly guarantee a happy or productive life. Instead, it takes a personal sense of purpose. The 'best' students are curious risk-takers who make connections across disciplines. By following those instincts—rather than simply chasing 'success'—the best students achieved it. Bain's new book is a wonderful exploration of excellence.
— David A. Kaplan
Chapter 7: Curiosity and Endless Education
On a hot September afternoon, four hundred students crushed into a small auditorium looking for seats on the long rows that curved around like giant horseshoes. Students eased their way down an aisle and to a row where they slide past other people to find a chair. As the room filled with chattering voices, each one grew louder to compete with the clamor around them.
After a few minutes, a tall, thin man wearing white running shoes, brown trousers, and a blue shirt entered and stood at a podium in the front of the room. From their seats, most of the students could look down at the top of his head. He clipped on a lavaliere microphone and cleared his throat.
“I know it’s hot in here,” he said, almost shouting over the chatter. “But we’ve got work to do.” As the students stopped talking, he continued. “This is History 112, and I suppose most of you are here because you think you’re required to take this class. Well, you are not,” he said as he moved from behind the podium and looked toward the back row.
A soft murmur rippled across the room as students turned from side to side and whispered some expression of disbelief. “But wait,” he quickly added, thrusting his hands in the air as if to stop some oncoming locomotive. “This course is by definition a part of getting a liberal education at this institution, but nobody in the world is requiring you to pursue such broad learning. You will not be whipped in the public square if you don’t. No one will imprison or fine you. You are in charge of your own education.”
As students listened, he continued. “I want you to think about whether you really want to get this kind of education. I want you to understand both its beauty and utility, then you can decide if it is for you.” The room grew still now, and a soft breeze floated around the space as the air conditioning finally kicked in.
Within a few minutes, he had unfurled a brief history of liberal education, and told them that “liberal” came from the Latin for “free” (liber), and it was the kind of schooling that free (as opposed to slave) children received in the ancient world. In the modern version, students explored a host of disciplines from the sciences to the humanities, taking a deep approach to important issues that those disciplines could help them address.
1 The Roots of Success 1
2 What Makes an Expert? 32
3 Managing Yourself 64
4 Learning How to Embrace Failure 99
5 Messy Problems 133
6 Encouragement 164
7 Curiosity and Endless Education 199
8 Making the Hard Choices 221
Posted December 28, 2012
I've always wondered what greatly accomplished people did to have succeeded and how I could tap into that bit of knowledge. Ken Bain does a magnificent job doing more than just giving you advice on how to get good grades but to see the entire world around you as a place for learning and seeing things in a new light. I highly recommend this book to any student who is not sure on what to do or what dreams to follow. It will comfort you to know that great people come from all different backgrounds. Don't miss out in discovering your innate passion for success.
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Posted November 17, 2013
I had to read "What the Best College Students Do" for a college honors program intro course. At first the book was great, the 'first hand' accounts made the book interesting and read a lot better than most of my college texts. However, I found the book redundant, Bain never told us what the best college students do besides being a deep learner and I'm not sure what that is. He continues to give the same examples until in the last chapter he finally gives some ways to engage in reading. The book was a quick read and a nice change from the usual college text, but as far as what the 'best college students do' I'm still not sure.
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Posted June 12, 2014