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Abby Em's picture

I find myself, as you can see

I find myself, as you can see from my last post, wanting to defend the formal education system, not in all it's forms and, certainly, failings, but as in institution that aims to do the right thing and sometimes succeeds. Oddly, for the first word association exercise with "education," I was one of those who gave none school related responses (children, people, life,) yet when we keep reiterating that "people thought about classrooms when they heard education" I get defensive of those classrooms that our conversation is saying don't provide as much learning as the ever-hallowed "life-experience." Plenty of learning does go on in school, it's just more foundational, less spontaneous, and not often as distinctly memorable as those learning moments that happen in the real world. As much as the aha! moments of understanding or new ideas reaffirm the joys of learning and stick out, a background and continued experience with formal education primes us to get the most out of those moments, enabling us to draw farther reaching conclusions, ask the right questions, and articulate their importance to others and to ourselves. We do take school for granted, not just because of socio-economic privilege that makes it's availability unquestionable, but because the simple demand that learning be fun is overshadowing the more nuanced truth the learning be worthwhile and rewarding. In truth, not everything of value is fun. Even rewarding school curriculums would not be deemed "fun" in comparison with just playing with friends all day doing whatever you chose, but it far from makes them worthless.


The article we read on "How people learn" helped me focus some of my thoughts by drawing my attention to two separate, sometimes seemingly competing, but actually interconnected types of knowledge taught in school- tools and facts. For a long time for me, I've considered classic complaint that "I'm never going to need to know this formula/ French history/ the themes in Beowulf in the real world" to be foolish, not because it isn't true, but because it misses the point that you're being taught to *think* with these examples. It's a kind of learning that happens slowly and gradually even when properly taught, such that you could seemingly argue that you're getting nothing out of having to write a paper analyzing a character's growth in the Odyssey. Maybe not on its own, no, but repetition is valuable for any kind of training, in this case the training to organize your thoughts, draw conclusions, express them deftly. I believe that we're all better off now for being taught that, even if at the time it was not considered fun. And of *course* we want to have as much joy in learning as possible, both for effectiveness and just for its own sake, but there's a certain kind of discipline required that is inherently less fun than if you were able to just do what you wanted. 


To get back on track, this article helped enrich my understanding of school as something that just gave you tools to learn more and think better by explaining how providing a solid bed of factual information is itself a tool for learning more and drawing more sophisticated and potentially original conclusions. It taught right, in a way the we remember and incorporate it into our knowledge base, knowing "stuff" is, they're right, quite valuable. I would not know this much stuff if I wasn't presented with it in an organized setting, I simply wouldn't. Life experiences, all the day to day learning experiences we have, are more valuable to us because of our knowledge ("things") and thinking ("tools") base we get in school. I just feel it's all too easy to criticize the institution, and that formal education is an easy target of our disdain that we're in danger of beating up in our efforts to feel liberal-minded.


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