Learning for the Sake of Learning

As an undergraduate, I was enrolled in an American literature course at New Mexico State University taught by Marion Hardman. Dr. Hardman was a legendary teacher who left a legacy that continued long after she was gone. She was a master teacher and remains, I am sure, the best literature teacher her students ever knew.

She taught at NMSU for 40-plus years and had a building named in her honor while she was still teaching. The class I took under her tutelage was on the second floor of Hardman Hall and was the last class she taught before retiring.

I assume the students who shared that class with me remember her final lecture. For me, it was a life-changing event, and I still have my notes from what she said.

During that last lecture Dr. Hardman gave an account of how she first came to NMSU. She talked about the problems she faced as a young woman at a conservative agricultural school in the 1930s.

It was fascinating to hear her talk about her career at NMSU, a career that would inspire feminists and scholars of both sexes. She talked about her intellectual development. She talked about meeting Ernest Hemingway.

After she finished telling personal stories, she ended her farewell lecture with words of advice that have never left me, words that have guided me throughout my teaching career,
She warned against the movement to make learning “useful” and “relevant.” For Dr. Hardman, education was about much more than simply preparing students for a career. She thought education should help students tap into something eternally true about being human. She felt students should examine the wisdom of the ages and understand their lives in the context of the entirety of human experience — art, history, literature, music, philosophy, and science.

After requesting that all of us listening to her last lecture commit ourselves to learning for the sake of learning, Dr. Hardman lamented a headline in a local newspaper stating that NMSU students “learn to earn.” She advised us to recognize the triviality of that headline and instead explore our innate desire to live a good life through discovering the pleasures of learning for the sake of learning. Dr. Hardman believed an education should nourish the intellect and feed the soul.
Her words have inspired me throughout my teaching my teaching career.

Thank you Dr. Hardman.

Hardman Hall
New Mexico State University