What is Education all about?

Premise

We all know education is a good thing. We believe we have a “right” to education. We hear about how the “system is broken”, how America is lagging in the global market. There is something inside us that compels us to ask “What is wrong?”

 

One perspective of where we are today

There seems to be a popular belief that the US is trailing a number of major players in the Global Education map. This idea is reinforced when we are treated to articles, charts and live coverage. On the topic of reform, Michele Rhee is really shaking things up with StudentsFirst.org, as demonstrated in the 2010 documentary “Waiting for Superman”. We have Federal initiatives like “No Child Left Behind” that attempts to spur us on towards higher standards. As a nation, we have been concerned about the education of our children and young adults for a long, long time. I hear lots of talk of reform, of blaming parents, teachers, administrators, etc. Locally, I am hearing the word “rigor” pop up a lot. Personally, I am not 100% clear what “rigor” means in the context of education, but there seems to be a sense that we need more of it, we need to produce people that are more ready for the workplace to help us compete internationally.

 

I have to ask, are things really that bad? Is this what we really need?

 

The Purpose of Education

At the end of this post, I have linked a number of articles I have recently read that have influenced me. I am convinced about several things that education is NOT supposed to do:

  • create students that excel in taking tests
  • produce students that can do only one thing
  • make the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” wider than it was yesterday

 

Furthermore, I am convinced that Education is a tool that strives to address social injustice by instilling the critical and central importance of a healthy community. In my mind’s eye, Education is not about helping an individual get ahead, rather it is about improving life for society.

 

There are two important questions that stem out of that. Why and How.

 

Why?

Why focus on society? What’s up with that, am I now a socialist or something? Frankly, I have no idea which label appropriately describes me. I don’t care. What I do care about are things like overpacked prisons and the wildly disproportionate population within; astonishingly high numbers of adults and kids that live in poverty, even in our own backyards (!!); numerous cases of blatant and seemingly little-punished white-collar crime, some on scales so large that they dwarf the GNP of small countries; finger-pointing, back-stabbing and open griping that is utterly unproductive. Why do we live in such a way that the average American could not tell you the names of all his immediate neighbors? How is it that within one square mile you can have a $1M home and the homeless?

 

To be honest, my most pressing question is not “Why?”, but rather “Where?”. Where is Justice? And I have an idea where she is.

 

How?

I hope you have not read this far and are now expecting an answer. 🙂 I have not done all the research that many others before me and smarter than I have done. I have not tested any theories, nor do I have any evidence that a particular approach will be the panacea.

 

Here is what I, a simple soul, a parent of a 1st grader, a Gen-X’er, would like to see.  I want to see an Education system that teaches kids how to do conflict resolution. I want to see an environment that catalyzes a desire to learn about the world around us and how it works. I want to see a place where those with many resources recognize the value in sharing and helping those with no resources. I want to see a generation of voters that not only care about making a difference, but have the faculties to ask questions and seek answers. Heck, for that matter, I want to see people question everything. Yes, especially me. Bring it! 🙂

 

Yes yes yes, I realize I am simultaneously being hopelessly Utopian, frustratingly vague and all the while not putting anything practical on the table. So here you go.

  • Open up your calendars/day planners and get community people inside schools. It doesn’t have to be during the school day, either.
  • Open up your wallets and donate towards CUSF, One-to-One mentoring and/or other non-profits that don’t spend a lot of money in overhead.
  • Stop griping. Stop making comparisons. If you want something to get done, get out there and do it.
  • Role-model healthy arguments; it is ok, natural and perfectly normal to have a difference of opinion, but it is counter-productive to be passive aggressive or overly passionate and opinionated. If you disagree, please let me know. 🙂
  • Swallow your pride, take a slice of humble pie. If you don’t see anyone else “doing the right thing”, then be the first.

 

 

Here is another thought. We live in an era where it is popular to punish, or in terms the psychologist might employ, utilize negative reinforcement. Perhaps there is a place for that. I don’t think it belongs in Education. (I am not even going to talk about the aspect of Discipline, which is an issue in and of itself) We test students (and teachers and building administrators, and even districts and states. Thanks NCLB) up the wazoo! All in the name of “monitoring” and “measuring”. There is another environment which not only provokes a natural sense of progression, but does so with positive reinforcement. What better than games that level? Look at wildly addictive games. Where are the punitive actions? Where are the hand slaps? Where is the arduous measurement? I am sure all of us have at least some experience with “time killing” games, or other addictive activities that we feel drawn to. What element do this actions have that entice us? In these cases, you are given a glimpse of what is possible and than you are challenged to achieve it. In more complex games, there is a very large and detailed map of possibilities. In simpler games, that map is smaller. But still present.

 

Have you ever played Angry Birds? Solitaire? Hearts? Minecraft? Any of those? Why do you go back to it? Again and again and again. The reward system is entirely subjective and implicit – you can’t take any of it to the bank.

 

I wonder what school would look like if one aspect of it (for instance, STEM) were all one giant game. You level up after achieving a certain skill and move on to the next challenge. There are increasing degrees of rewards that are commensurate with the time and work invested. “Teachers” become coaches, cheer-leaders. They have played the game, they are experts. “Dungeon Masters” (aka, DM) we might call them.

 

I like games. I realize not everyone does, nor to the same degree. This is merely my projection unto what Education could look like. I would love to hear other ideas.

 

Conclusion

There is a lot of good stuff, and a lot of good people, going on in our school systems. Sure, it ain’t perfect. If we value our competitive edge as a nation and want to pump out killer worker bees for the economy, we would do well to listen to those who have a leg in business. It would be clean, efficient, economical.

If, on the other hand, we actually care about any kind of moral compass, if we care about the many social ills around us, then we are going to have to do the counter-intuitive thing and actually invest in messy, inefficient, dirty relationships.

It is up to you to decide which way you want to go.

 

Bibliography

 

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4 Responses to “What is Education all about?”

  1. Karen Says:

    ‘There are increasing degrees of rewards that are commensurate with the time and work invested.’

    Isn’t this what you argue against? ‘Education is not about helping an individual get ahead, rather it is about improving life for society.’ Meritocracy=bad?

    Discipline is a whole lot more than ‘punishment.’ Self-discipline is a critical skill to nurture in children/youth. And, as someone involved in anti-bullying efforts, it bothers me how often the argument against ‘punishment’ is so one-sided. It does this or that student no good to……………….(fill in the example of a method of discipline)—because it’s too ‘negative’ or ………. (whatever). But, it’s not just about the kid with the behavior issue and how best to work with him/her. On the flip side is the victim of an aggressive behavior and sometimes what serves them best is stepping out of the process of shaping the aggressor’s behavior with +ves only (as that takes time, with some kids never actualizing the desired behavior) and doing what needs to be done in the short-term/immediate circumstance to maintain safety. Sometimes that means a negative consequence——a ‘punishment’—-a basic tenet of behaviorist learning theory.

    How do you know what the community contribution of ‘gripers’ is? I have strong opinions on many subejcts, but, that doesn’t mean they’re simply opinions sans associated actions/efforts. I am not sure where you’re coming from with that portion of your post.

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    Karen,

    I thank you for your questions.

    I realize that discipline is an awesome thing – I specifically did not want to open that can of worms in the context of punishment. When I speak of “punishment”, I used the example of NCLB, which exacts a fine on states that do not meet AYP, and as a corollary, the example of standardized tests which punish students for “not passing”. That is the context of my statement on punishment. Again, I totally agree that discipline is a many-faceted topic and one worth considering. I save that for another post. 🙂

    In terms of the community of gripers, you raise a very valid point that I do not know what else they are involved in. It is my observation that a number of people (around 30 or so) have complained to me (via this blog or in person) about the Kindergarten Lottery. I have not had the benefit of learning how each person dealt with their frustration. In one case, I did follow-up and learned that the FIC was called, but the issue was unresolved. In another extreme case, I see a number of anonymous comments on NG articles (or even IlliniPundit back in the day) that whine and moan – as they are anonymous and hiding behind a facade, I have absolutely no idea what else comes with that package. Very infrequently do I hear of someone who has a bone to pick and actually goes out to confront said bone. I am sure it happens. Unfortunately, I am not aware of it.

    Another aspect is that I continue to see a disconnect between what I hear in the blogosphere (here, chambanamoms, smile politley, others) and what the BOE tells me they hear. And more importantly, what is being done about it. It is almost as if two groups of people are raising concerns, but in isolate soundproof rooms. I am not sure what to do about that. 🙂

    And now I am curious. May I ask what actions you are taking? I understand this is totally personal and you have no obligation to respond. But I believe I could be enlightened, or at least encouraged.

  3. Karen Says:

    Interesting is your comment about what the BOE hears. What do they hear? Would they like to hear more from the community? Perhaps in a more systematic manner vs. a board member here or there independently fielding questions/concerns? There seems to be little formal way of doing this. Then again, I might be missing something in that regard. It might be useful for the BOE to be cc.-d on complaints/concerns brought up with Unit 4 Admin. It might expand their knowledge of what sorts of complaints/concerns people have, how admin deals with them, and what level of satisfaction people come away with in having their concerns addressed.

    As for what actions I am taking, it would probably be best to discuss that in email.

    I am sorry for misunderstanding the conext of your mentioning discipline.

  4. charlesdschultz Says:

    I believe there is a slow shift in which the Board and the Administration is learning how to “listen” better. As of 2011, they have started to chant “we want to hear your opinions” in a louder voice; Sue Grey, the Board President is saying this, Dr. Bob Malito is saying this, and whenever I talk to individual board members, I hear this. From my perspective, we as a community should take advantage of this offer and let them know what we think. Not just the vocal folks among us, but more of us. And we will continue to work with Unit 4 to express what we expect in terms of a response.

    To wit, when the Board announces the Forum for the final candidates they have chosen, I am really hoping that we have a large community turnout to voice what we think about the candidates. The Board wants to hear our feedback. Let’s give it to ’em.


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