At lunch today, after listening to Neil Bortz on the radio, my mom walked in to the house with a frown on her face. She had been listening to Neil Bortz on the radio, and he had replayed the following video from Jay Leno’s Jaywalking. Enjoy a little laugher….. and then scrunch your mouth in consternation at the state of the union.
As usual, when people do dumb things, fingers of righteousness automatically point to the state of the world and blame it on the state of education. “Public schools are not educating our children!” claim the grumpy.
Well, if public school is not educating the children, what is it doing? What do students do for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week? As a former public school teacher, I can surely say, the state of the union is not as depressing as it seems from this comedic travesty.
First, most of the teachers with whom I taught during my tenure as a public school teacher were incredibly bright and prepared teachers. From my slice of the system, the leaders in education are leading (despite immense odds against them, I might add) students in the right direction.
Second, the students with whom I worked were always capable, usually hard-working, sometimes mischievous, often bright, occasionally rude (as teenagers are wont to be), brilliant every now and then, frequently funny, and generally trustworthy people. BUT……
all of them saw school as a chore. Homework as a tedious part of the to-do list. They counted down the minutes to the end of each class, and then to the end of each school day.
For them, education was (for the most part) not fun. And education was definitely not relevant. To play a bit of the devil’s advocate, I ask:
Is it imperative as an adult, in every day life, that you know off-hand that Betsy Ross was the one who sewed the first American Flag?
When a policeman stops you for speeding, does he ask who led the troops across the Delaware River?
When you drive up to the bank in order to deposit a check, must you first know what Paul Revere hollered on his horse?
Is it necessary to know the 13 original colonies when cooking dinner, pumping gas, counting correct change?
Now before I receive nasty replies, please keep reading. The purpose of this questioning is not to belittle the facts of our history as a nation, or to belittle facts in general. Rather, I ask them to illustrate a point. In order to illustrate it, please allow me a little backtracking.
Belief one: The more educated a person becomes, the more a person appreciates education.
Belief two: The more appreciated education becomes, the more people seek it out.
Belief three: Eventually, in every person’s education, there arrives a tipping point, or an ah-ha moment, when originally un-wanted knowledge becomes desirable.
This may happen to the apprentice mechanic when she first understands how to take apart and put back together an engine.
This may happen to the art student who finally “sees” the composition of a Michaelangelo.
Whenever it happens, it takes a base of education to make it happen.
It is our job as educators to help the students get to that tipping point moment more quickly. The liberal arts base exposure that students receive in schools is what provides them the thinking skills and initial footing for their further forays into deeper learning.
Some educators look at the 21st century as a time to move away from facts. After all, can’t they look up the answers to those questions on their iPhones in ten seconds flat?
Well. yes. BUT, if we get rid of the necessity of learning knowledge or facts, we have gotten rid of a huge piece of education. On Bloom’s Taxonomy cognitive process, knowledge is THERE. It is not insignificant. Facts are a piece of a larger puzzle. We must encourage students to pursue knowledge but also pursue creation and synthesis of that knowledge. We must allow them to DO something with their knowledge, so that they can reach that tipping point where they realize that knowledge can be relevant.
As an administrator, learner, and educator, and friend, Bo, recently wrote to me: “For me, it’s not social learning OR individual learning, it’s not great books OR the Internet…We are thinking individually and socially. The point to me is that we are choosing to participate. For me, this the the crux of 21st c. Education – students, LEARNERS, should want and be encouraged to participate…not just sit and get on most days. ”
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, I know I’m not doing enough as a teacher when students ask me, “why do we have to learn this?” It is my job to open doors for them that they WANT to step though. Students should not HAVE to learn anything; they should WANT to learn everything. That way, when Jay Leno walks up to a student of mine, hopefully he or she will chirp happily, “Betsy Ross” or “General Washington” or “13 colonies!” to his independence day questions, because that learner will have already tipped into the mindset that ALL education is worth while because every piece of the puzzle that we KNOW can help us to DO life better.