Friday, October 5, 2012

Education is Not "For" Anything

As a teacher, one of the first things I learned was to expect the question, "Why do we have to know this?" Every time I planned a lesson, I tried very hard to have some real purpose behind it, some application that would make sense and somehow render the subject more useful-seeming. This is easy with some subjects (reading, writing), less so with others (upper level math, string theory), but a couple days ago I came across an essay that made me reconsider my need to have a "purpose" for everything.

This essay asserts that education, in and of itself, is purpose enough, that we need to really define what education means, beyond testing (but not excluding testing) in order to produce students who can function without anxiety in this world.

Boy, do I ever agree.

HoneyFern gives grades, and that is a struggle for me sometimes. Here we are, being all individual and whatnot, then I come along and plop a grade on something. That is not exactly how it works, but it feels like it sometimes. What is more telling is the process a student went through, how they acted when they encountered obstacles or did not know, what changes they made as they went, how they improved over the last time. This is difficult to grade, but it has more value than a worksheet or test in the long run. As the author of the article says, " However you dress this up it means we have to put process before content; how we learn before what we learn. Otherwise, we will bring up children who are unable to cope with twenty-first century life."

When was the last time you learned something (anything: a skill, a hobby, a language, a fact) just because? Compare that to the last time you learned something for a test (or, as an adult, for work-related improvements). What was the difference in your approach and your feelings towards what you were learning  when it was to please yourself versus to please someone else (or pass/get a raise)?

If we can figure out how to honor each student's process and voice instead of shoving them all towards the same goal, that might be the best way to revolutionize education and begin to see some real change. If we can treat education as the means and the end, what would that look like?

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