Accounting for Love

Accounting for Love

Howard M. Armitage
2004 3M Teaching Fellow


nnovative educators share their love of their subject matter with their students. I have to confess, it was hard for me to write this line and harder for me to say it. It has to do with the word “love.” I am more at ease with the words excitement, joy, enthusiasm, zeal, fervour, dedication or, if pressed, even passion. But love is the right word. As I watch inspired colleagues in action, I can’t help being impressed by the love they have for their subject matter, and how important it is to be able to convey this sense of love to their students. Its importance is so strong that it clearly affects how they see and interact with their students.

I am no different. I’ve not said this out loud to many people other than my family but I love accounting. I really do. I love its mathematical elegance. I love conveying the implications of good and bad accounting to society, organizations and employees. I love watching TV shows or movies that feature accountants and I’ve even required some of my students to watch the original Japanese version of Shall We Dance so they could see the hell that this poor stereotypical company accountant went through to learn how to dance. I grieve when my students wallow at the debit/credit level and don’t get to see the sultry, sexy, rich, intoxicating world in which accounting operates. I am definitely not alone. Innovative educators compulsively share their “love” of their discipline with their students.

Some years ago, Stanford University President Donald Kennedy said, “It is time to reaffirm that education-that is, teaching in all its forms-is the primary task of higher education.”

Kennedy views teaching as an element of scholarship, where teaching both educates and entices future scholars. I strongly support this point of view. Excellence in teaching requires no less effort, and is no less important, than excellence in research. I believe that teaching is the highest form of understanding but that it is not adequately appreciated.

It’s time for a story.

The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued, “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?” He reminded the other dinner guests that it’s true what they say about teachers, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” The guests all laughed.

To emphasize his point, he singled out one of the diners: “You’re a professor, Susan,” he said. “Be honest. What do you make?”

Susan, who had a reputation for frankness, replied,

“You want to know what I make?

I make students work harder than they ever thought they could. I can make kids sit through ninety minutes of class and completely absorb their attention.

I can make students want to learn and practise their discipline.

You want to know what I make?

I make students wonder.

I make them question.

I make them criticize.

I make them sensitive to different opinions.

I make them write.

I make them read.

I make them do.

I make them know I will review their work for grammar, logic and content.

I make them experience the joy of learning, appreciate the meaning of good performance and take pride in themselves and their accomplishments.

I make them understand that if you have the brains, then follow your heart … and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make, you pay them no attention.

You want to know what I make?

I make a difference. What do you make?”