Monday, 9 February 2009

Thoughts on learning

"I am learning to cook. Susan is teaching me. I tried to learn long ago - but no, let me be honest - Susan tried to teach me, which is a very different thing. I never seemed to succeed with anything and I got discouraged." ("Rilla of Ingleside", from the Anne of Green Gables Novels)
Is this the crux of the problem with public schools today? I have no doubt there are many noble teachers out there who love children and love teaching and have an earnest desire to inspire their students. I would be one such, if I ever took up teaching formal education. But the problem is that no longer are students imbued with passion to learn. A few lucky children are born with this yearning and seem to stumble through their school years uninhibited. But too often a wave of boredom captures the young minds which stifles any chance of really learning.

It is noble to want to teach someone something, but without that person's desire to learn, nothing can truly be accomplished.

I felt this keenly as a child, and still do. My "inquiring mind" wanted to know. I was never satisfied in school with the traditional methods of teaching me the "what". I wanted to know the "why" and the "how". In fact, early on I found it nearly impossible to learn by simple regurgitation. It was hard to memorize the organs of the body, but if I learned how they worked apart and together, I found it made sense. I didn't have to rely on late night memorization spurts. I simply absorbed how it all went together, and could answer any test answer thrown at me, and even hypothesize further on the issue.

But I often felt this desire to learn quashed. There wasn't the time to cater to one child's "inquiring mind". The set curriculum with its government guidelines and expectations didn't allow such creative meandering. By university I had duly conformed and had modified my mode of learning. No longer was I able to digest information by understanding; instead I resorted to visually colour-coded notes and yes, late-night cram sessions. Finally the education system could stick a gold star by my name.

I don't want my children to be taught. I want them to learn. I want them to want to learn. I have used math and science and art and music and writing and gym and history and geography and languages in innumerable practical applications. And these concepts were impressed much more deeply on my mind than when I was taught them sitting at my desk: third row, fifth chair.

My interest is piqued in discovering the roots of public education. When did schools as we know them come to be? What was the reason for mass education? We are currently seeing the failings of "mass" things: mass marketing, mass media, mass agriculture... Many people are offended by the "mass" life we lead; the same many are content to just let it be because 'that's the way it is'. Does it have to be? Should it be? Can't we at least question and learn and discover and ponder and debate and converse on the subject? I have a feeling that "mass education" will soon fall into the list of things we wish hadn't been streamlined in such a way. I think it can be agreed upon that no good comes from these mass production lines of any product, least of all our children.

Has it come to that? Is my child simply a product?

As I teacher I would hope to be nothing more than a guide, steering the learning of my students and inspiring such questioning and learning and discovering and pondering and debating and conversing. But I have a feeling that if I walked into a grade 10 class today I would be met with silence and blank stares if I tried to encourage such a classroom environment.

Also notably missing from the public system (although not from many private and religious schools) are classes on values and ethics. Society no longer deems these subjects noteworthy, perhaps hiding behind the facade that they are "taught in the home". Oh, if only my town, province, country, world, were filled with such homes.

Mine can be such a home. I am more convinced now than ever that it must be. I don't think I can rely on my public education system to inspire my children to be the kind of thinkers they need to be. A hedonistic society needs only its people to go to work and spend their money. But true genius, true change, true difference, is only attained by those who escape society's system.

I'm glad I'm no longer in school, for this "paper" would likely be met with dubious eyes and wary tones.

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