Why you should attend lectures

For my students.

A lot of philosophy is about arguments. Not in the antagonistic and angry way, but in reasoned debate. Philosophy is more than opinions, for it is about persuading others that a particular view is the right or most reasonable view. That can be hard for young adults, trying to carve out a space for themselves. But even without trying to persuade, knowing how to justify your own point of view is a worthy skill.

Here, I want to justify, and persuade you, that attending lectures is a good idea.


Let’s acknowledge that flexibility is a big deal at the moment. Juggling part-time work, study, and social activity can be complex. Many courses are promoted on the basis of their flexibility. So I’m arguing here that you should give attendance at lectures a priority in the hierarchy of value you’ve given to your activities. You have a life ahead of you to work and earn money. You have evenings and weekends to socialise. By contrast, you only have now, day-time, in semester, to change the parameters of your own knowledge and abilities in an especially intensive way. Make the most of it!

So here are two big reasons to show up.

  1. You will learn more, and so get better results.
  2. You will develop your personal responsibility; something friends, employers, and lovers all find attractive.

Let me unpack why I think these reasons are true. (Yes, my reasons have reasons).

First, learning more. This one is pretty obvious, it seems to me. When I say “show up”, I’m also implying that you don’t just sit up the back on facebook or whatever the whole time. You show up and participate. Once you’re there, there are all sorts of “clues” that help you stay on point: other people paying attention, asking questions; the visual dimension, especially the teacher’s gestures and expressions. A good teacher will ask you to do things in a class – talk to others, brainstorm, reflect on an experience, and comment. All of this means that by showing up, you do a lot more than if you listen and watch a recording.  And educational psychologists will happily show you lots of evidence that learning is not about “innate ability”, but about how much you do, and the habits that you acquire in the process. So, you do more by showing up, therefore you learn a lot more.

You might object at this point, by arguing that this disadvantages external students. This is true. But it’s not a reason to not show up. External students have to compensate for this disadvantage, by increasing their activity in other areas – for example, good online discussion (more on this another time).  But if you’re an on campus student, who chooses not to attend, you don’t have that compensation. Result: you’re just handicapping yourself.

Another point here is that when listening to a recording, you don’t have all “clues” to help keep you on task. In fact, you have to spend a lot of energy ignoring clues, screening them out, for other activities. You can do it, but it’s far harder.

Second, personal responsibility. This reason is less obvious. What I mean is that life’s rewards (such as: happiness!) go to those that are in the habit of showing up and making the most of things. You may not consider yourself the most “intelligent” person (I would beg to differ), or the most “gifted”. But if you regularly turn up, cultivating the reliability and involvement that lectures depend on, then you will see many more opportunities for yourself. Lectures (good ones, at least) depend on you because they are conversations, not monologues. And that means the lecturer is relying on you as a conversation partner, a “co-producer”, some call it. There is trust involved here, and as you become a trusted partner, you begin to see that you’re a part of something bigger than just you  and your immediate study goals. There is a kind of community that is created in the classroom. But all of this will be invisible unless you’re in the habit of being there. When I call this “personal responsibility”, I’m expressing the fact that you belong there.  And when you belong somewhere, this is the kind of characteristic that friends, partners, employers, and lovers all gravitate towards. Imagine sitting in an interview for a great job, and the employer saying, “with your skills and record, we can see that you really belong here”. Opportunity flows your way.

The objection again might be, “what about those who can’t be there?”. External students, unalterable work commitments, and so on. Well, as I said before, it is possible to compensate for not being in the room. And because, statistically, a lot of people will choose not to show up, it’s even possible to actually be the “most present”, even though you’re not in the room. I’ll have to write another post about how to do that sometime.

I think now, however, I’ve supported my reasons to show you why both on short and long term considerations, it’s worthwhile turning up and choosing to be involved. Remember, you’re in charge of your life. Not me. I’m not laying down a law here. I’m just trying to give some reasons, which you can consider and accept or reject. Ultimately, the decision comes from you. Don’t just agree with me because I’m the teacher. Use your mind, evaluate your activities, and then make your choices accordingly.

So now it’s over to you. Perhaps there are objections I haven’t considered. I’d like you to state them. I’d like you to disagree. Let’s really discuss it. Some say that “lectures are dead”. But I don’t think so. I know what goes on in my lectures, and they aren’t dead. Perhaps they’re only dead for those that don’t know, because they aren’t there.



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