What Is Education For?
August 27, 2012 § 4 Comments
One morning last August, I met with the segment producers of CBS’ “60 Minutes” at their studio on the West Side of Manhattan to record an interview with Morley Safer on the subject of kindergarten redshirting. I had written about my experience with the subject and had been doing some reading, and talking – lots of talking – about how I thought that most kids (with some notable exceptions) didn’t need to be held back from kindergarten. So, I told the producers as soon as I met them that morning, I had just read about a new study that proved – proved – that holding your mostly normal child back from kindergarten was useless. One of the producers looked me in the eye, deadpan, and said, “Yes, but you can find a study to prove anything.”
This took the wind right out of me, like she’d thrown a medicine ball into my stomach.
I was embarrassed, mostly because, before I’d become so assured of my own rightness on this particular subject, I kind of thought the same thing. Have you? I began guzzling red wine because I read the study that proved resveratrol was excellent for my health; not two weeks later, I read a study that says one glass of wine a day increases chances of breast cancer. Is there a study to prove everything we desire to believe?
I bring this up because education and learning is only not a numbers game – a group of reliable grades, scores and statistics to prove our kids are getting an education. The American-style “reform” is filled with assessments, accountabilities, scores and evaluations – there seem to be more and more ways to measure every week. While these numbers, along with scholarly studies and scientific research, are more than helpful to get a clearer picture of what’s going on in our schools, and in our children’s brains, to say they are telling the whole story about education is simply missing the entire point of why we show up to school in the first place. If we don’t have eyes to look beyond the numbers, beyond the assessments and accountability, beyond the test scores and the unions and all the other elements of modern education that are being studied, hashed, and re-hashed again, we may forget why school matters, and what our kids’ mission is for being there. A real education, and real learning, is not a numbers game. It is something more.
But, what is it, exactly?
That’s what I intend to find out this fall – with your help, of course. What is education, exactly? What do we use it for? Is it merely a path to a job, a career? Or does it describe something more meaningful, more lasting? When we parents talk about our schools, what are we saying?
Many times, I feel that when parents talk about schools, we don’t keep the big mission (or Big Mission) in mind. We get caught up in things that don’t matter, or things that would be relatively easy to change if we only got together and asked. Yet we have been injected with fear that if we don’t do what we’ve been asked, our child will fall behind. And falling behind is equal to a total and complete failure for our child. Where did we get this idea? Why don’t parents question its intentions more often? If we had a Big Mission in mind for our children, a long-term commitment plan to exactly what education is and what it means, would this affect how we educate? Surely, it would.
How might we apply this single mission idea to schools? What is our understanding of what education is for, and what the results of an education are supposed to be? I spoke to a parent recently who made a highly fearful decision about her child’s schooling because she “desperately wanted him to like school.” In her mind, if he liked school, then he would be a success. While there is probably an element of truth to this, I thought there was an opportunity for some bigger thinking here. I thought of how much I liked playing the flute, but how I quit after a year; I thought of how much I hated diagramming sentences – but how grateful I am that my teachers made me do it (and how they’d wonder if I remembered any of it, considering how I titled this post!). Whether or not our kids like everything they do in school, if we have a mission in mind, an overall goal, we could shape our child’s education, not by fear of what they won’t have, but by the qualities, skills and experiences that fit inside the Big Mission.
Lastly, I wanted to share an essay by developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik, from the book Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist, called “A Midcentury Modern Education.” She was considered a genius and a prodigy, but her family’s views on education were entirely different from what infuses our education culture now. Please take a look; I’d love to hear your thoughts on this wonderful, personal piece about education.
Now, finally, what is education for? You can tell us here, below – leave a comment. Let ‘er rip.