Everyone agrees that education is hugely important. The thing is, we’re not particularly sure what we want from it. It’s clear that schools fail (not just on paper) a percentage of the students they see, whether it’s a highly academic private school or in troubled government run ones. Natural aptitudes, curious ingenuity and talent get lost on a massive scale. This doesn’t mean we should make exams more difficult or hire more teachers or build more schools- rather, it should mean focusing on the real purpose of education.
Today, the fifth of July, marks the second day of the philosophy camp for kids (at UAlberta). I went into this camp with the rumination that even though I am extremely awkward and horrible with working with kids, if I could help just one kid realize within their own mind that the value of anything could be found exactly there within the goods of their mind, then I would have achieved my goal. To appreciate learning, self-improvement, and that a formal education is not necessarily needed to learn. (I’d like to touch on this point so much more…but maybe another day/post. I realize this statement could be easily misconstrued.) Yet in the 2 days I have seen this particular group of 17 six to eight year olds, I find myself thinking more about my own education and the system we were raised in. I’d like to recollect a situation from this morning. These children often fear to stray away from what they’ve been told is “right” by a figure with more influence, even if just seconds ago they believed something entirely different with their entire being (this was during an activity coined as “complart”- completion art). Be that as it may, during an inquiry session afterwards on whether we should create copies of art, one child had brilliant input. He made rational, intelligent suppositions for his point and took many factors into account with only a little bit of guidance. It is here that I find both hope and disdain for a possible future outcome in education.
The goal of education should not be about creating cut-out workers to feed into everyday industries. Education should foster intellectual curiosity in the individual that in turn results in a life-long student loving to learn for the rest of their days. Ironically, this happens only to a few students. Rather, the current process of education is a process of being indoctrinated. What is being taught is a mishmash of current prejudice and choices of a particular culture. One look at a history book shows how impermanent these are. It’s a self-perpetuating system.
A system of education that is not a system of indoctrination has not evolved yet. Those who are more their own individual will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating themselves and therefore, their own judgements. But those who are not should remember-they are being molded to fit the particular needs of this particular society.
Properly delivered education is similar to laying out a string by the teacher where thorough questioning, guidance and inquiry, the students follow the general “string” while coming up with their own conclusions, ideally becoming free thinkers, and problem solvers capable of intelligent, thorough group/democratic debate, and discussion between rational and irrational explanations. Students should not be forced to memorize math algorithms but rather confront and discover the underlying problems, therefore being able to solve any problem presented. Students should be free to pursue (and encouraged to pursue) subjects and problems that interest them rather than objective based learning where the goals are chiseled in stone through a curriculum created by admins and politicians. A class shouldn’t be about what is covered, but rather, what is discovered. Teachers, ideally, should not be a puppet on stage, but a guide on the side. Surely, this is a problem with larger society. We have an education curriculum, but we don’t know how to properly use it to benefit us as a species, in the long run.
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
Painting by Raphael, “Scuola di Atene” (The School of Athens), 1509-1511