Well, looks like I’m going to be kicking off this blog with something deep. Yesterday I came across a video of a free verse poem titled “Why I Hate School But Love Education.” I could go on and on about the things I agree with and disagree with in this poem, but that’s not why I chose to talk about it. What I like is how this poem separates education/learning from the institution of school, causing us to question the way we define learning/education and the methods we use to acquire it. Even though the poem uses the context of higher education, I believe these questions are relevant and vital for all levels of education. For this poem, I will share some initial thoughts and explore some of the ideas that really stood out for me. You can either read straight through or skip around to the ideas you like. Before I break down some ideas from this poem, I encourage you to watch it keeping this seemingly strange separation in mind. The video has been provided below.
After watching this video, a question came to my mind. How can schools provide education as this poet sees it? Neglecting the question of whether or not the poet’s view of education is correct, I began to think about what a school’s role would be in this schema.
It starts with the people the poet mentions. These are all major figures who, despite not having received a higher education, have found great success in one form or another. In order to achieve success, these individuals had to overcome a great deal of adversity and struggle. What was motivating them? If it was up to my students, they would spend all day playing video games, watching TV, or socializing rather than learning. That’s not to say learning doesn’t occur in these activities, but there is no end goal in mind.
Thinking of goals, I am reminded of a speech I came across on YouTube called “What’s Your Why?” The speech is by a motivational speaker named Eric Thomas and was given to the newer members of the Miami Dolphins (see video below). In his speech, Thomas explains that the difference between being good and being great is having a ‘why’. A ‘why’ is more than just a goal, it is a meaningful purpose. All of the people mentioned in Suli’s poem had a ‘why’ and that was the key to their success.
So maybe the goals of school are wrong. Maybe the purpose should not be so focused on learning facts but helping students find their ‘why’ and through this, give students the skills, experience, and education they need to fulfill it. This of course would play out differently at different grade levels, but it is certainly something to consider.
“If you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to build theirs”
(Side note: This quote is not originally from Suli. I believe it is by Tony Gaskins Jr.)
Well this makes you feel all sunshine and rainbows about your job now doesn’t it? What if your dream is to help others discover and fulfill theirs….like being a teacher? How’s that for a paradox?
In actuality, this quote is not as bad as it may seem. For our purposes, your dream is the same as your purpose/goal and does not require you to become the CEO of your own organization. If you really think about it, even though a teacher and a superintendent are on different management levels of the school system, they both work to accomplish the goal of helping students succeed. A purpose/goal gives you a reason to work and provides fulfillment when your task is complete. However, purposes/goals are easy to lose sight of, and this is when you go from building your own dream to being merely a piece in someone else’s. I think that when people are in this position, they feel like merely a piece and are unfulfilled, even by their successes.
The lack of a realistic goal/purpose for students is epidemic in schools and affects how students approach learning to begin with. Even at the high school level, the concept of college and/or high-paying job requirements are too abstract for most students to serve as a motivator. Teachers may try to make content relevant, but even this does not give students a meaningful purpose.
There is currently a movement that seeks to address the problem of purpose in education called ‘project-based learning’. Unfortunately, this term has been used to describe many different practices that don’t really solve the issue at hand. For our purposes, project-based learning refers to a learning structure in which students choose a significant project to complete by the end of a grading period. For example, a student could choose to build a 3-D printer or host a fundraising event. These projects should require significant research on the part of the students and can be done individually or in groups. Students are responsible for the entire process, from research to physical execution. They are so complex that students must acquire multiple, cross-curricular skills to accomplish their task.
Honestly, I could make an entire blog describing this project-based model, so I will get to the point. In this model, students are motivated to acquire a large knowledge base in order to create something that they are interested in creating. Because they have a tangible end goal in mind, self-motivation is much higher and students are able to go beyond what may have been covered in a standard curriculum. This model is definitely geared toward high school students, but is closely related to the Montessori model for pre-K and elementary students. As of now, it is difficult to know how effective a model like this or if it even helps cure the purpose epidemic, but it does challenge the traditional paradigm in a productive way.
“So what are you studying for?”
I have already discussed the importance of having a goal/purpose in the previous section, so I will be pretty brief here. Ultimately, I believe that students need to have a meaningful purpose for studying in order to embrace learning. With this in mind, perhaps a school’s job is to provide students the opportunity figure out what their purpose may be. I’m not saying that students will discover what they want to do for their life, many of us are still left pondering this question after graduating college and it can change as we acquire new experiences and responsibilities. However, as an institution of learning, school can provide a safe and supportive context for students to experiment and discover, which is the whole point of education to begin with right?
“If there were a family tree, hard work and education would be related, but school would probably be a distant cousin. Cuz’ if education is the key, school is the lock…..”
This quote really made me think. I feel that if I am devaluing my students’ thoughts and preventing them from thinking and discovering, then I am failing as an educator. That being said, I certainly believe that there are systematic limitations in the school system that could contribute to Suli’s feelings about this. I believe that the problem with something like this is despite the problem being painfully clear, the system that makes it this way is complicated and mixed up that the very prospect of fixing it is overwhelming and therefore, largely avoided. I say this despite the successful attempts of various districts to innovate and improve their schools because even though many of these are great, they are inconsistent across the country and really only ‘beat around the bush’ so to speak. We are working in the context of a huge system and more than just a few parts need to be improved.
All of this is pretty much the same rhetoric we’ve been hearing for years and honestly people much smarter than me can’t figure out a clear solution. I merely encourage us to keep an open mind and continue to experiment, innovate, and accept change. Remember, it may take a few years for the true effects of new programs to show and challenges are part of the process of change.
“Education is about inspiring one’s mind, not just filling their head.”
I think it’s safe to say that most educators would agree with this statement. In our classrooms, we are preparing future citizens and innovators. Inspiration is the key to educational success and should always be a focus in every classroom. The ways in which we can inspire students are varied and not always related to our content. It’s the very core of the teaching profession and why most of us teachers do what we do. Keep inspiring, keep thinking, and keep innovating.
“Understand your motives and reassess your aims”
I think this is important no matter what your age or profession, but as education continues to change, this idea strikes and important note. Where globalization has brought about many wonderful things, it has somewhat muddled what we believe is important in formal education. As education is ultimately a political entity, it is no surprise that it has been pulled in to the political struggle for power among nations. Whether or not this should occur and to what degree is debatable however, its current influence is undeniable and should be discussed.
The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a common assessment taken by students from countries who participate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The United States performed poorly compared to other OECD members in the most recent test, its best ranking being in reading, earning 17th out of the 34 participating countries. It should be noted that the recent decline in rank was not due to a decline in our students’ performance but rather a rapid improvement on the part of others. However, these ranks have shaken our politics and caused another wave of ‘testing scare’. I say another as the PISA test has been given every 3 years since 2000 and the United States, as far as politics are concerned, has a history of troubling scores. These scores have become a political obsession which translates to what and how schools teach.
Where I am a huge supporter of international cooperation and global awareness, I believe that in this instance, global competition has caused us to lose sight of our strengths and the things we valued in our education system. Right now, we are merely struggling to catch up in any way we can. We have a motive, but we need to reassess our aims. It may sound cliché, but where we excel is in creating thinkers and innovators. Don’t believe me? Despite what Suli says, the programs of our universities and colleges, programs that promote the mastery of professional content and teach the skills necessary to utilize this content, are some of the most desirable in the world. If we can find our aims and clean up our education system, the test scores will follow.
“There’s more than one way in this world to be an educated man”
This is the last but most important point. Every person has something the can teach us, no matter what age, gender, nationality, etc. and there are many contexts in which learning can occur. I learn something new from my students every day and this is one of the reasons I love what I do.
In the PBS series “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” author and college professor Jared Diamond shares his experience staying with tribes in the wilds of Papua New Guinea. Diamond points out that despite their lack of modern amenities and formal education, these New Guineans had extensive knowledge about the natural world around them and how to survive in this harsh environment. Their knowledge could even rival those of leading scientists, making them a prime example of how there is more than one way to be educated.