Saturday, January 12, 2008

What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?

This is the question proposed by Alfie Kohn in his 2004 collection of essays. He states that before we can educate someone we must know what the goal is - the desired outcome. Even if we haven't consciously decided on an outcome, we are working towards one. Then we are faced with the question of whether or not we are working towards a desired outcome. He goes on to say, "The trick, however, when deciding what we really want, is to look beyond the surface and think past the short term." Only then can we evaluate whether our short term goals are supporting our long term outcome.

This being said, when educating a child, one must look ahead to the adult that child will become. If your goal is for your child to graduate at the top of his class and go to an Ivy League school, then that grade on Friday's math test suddenly becomes monumentally important. If, however, your goal is for your child "to have the desire as well as the means to make sure that learning never ends" (Kohn, 10), then that test suddenly becomes inconsequential or possibly even damaging. Indeed, if your goal is to create a lifelong learner, then graduation itself becomes superfluous because graduation symbolizes the end of an education which, in actuality, should never end.

This brings me to my next point: achievement vs. learning. Most people do not realize that these two concepts are not the same, especially when concerned with children. Learning is "the modification of behavior through practice, training, or experience" or the acquisition of new knowledge or skills. Achievement is the "act of achieving; attainment or accomplishment." Take, for example, the laundry. When I get all of the laundry generated by five people through the washing and drying process, I have truly achieved something. However, I have not learned anything because the learning associated with this task was accomplished years ago. Now for a converse example: I love Designed To Sell. I have watched untold hours of this show, all while achieving absolutely nothing. It seemed as if I was merely entertaining myself... until it came time to sell my house. Only then was my learning visible - not on a test, but in real life application - when I received two offers during the first month the house was listed.

I would very much like for my children to grow up to be self-assured, caring, compassionate individuals who know who they are and what they want to do with their lives. I want them to be able to make competent decisions. I want them to be comfortable with their learning processes to the point that they continue to enjoy learning throughout their lives. That being said, our short term goals should be limited to maintaining their safety and well being, giving them plenty of safe opportunities to make real choices, providing opportunities for them to be exposed to new experiences, and most importantly, allowing them plenty of time to be kids - time to explore who they are and what they like and don't like. With an education plan like that, who has time for school?


Anonymous said...

Hi Tina,
I need you to bring your learning from "Designed to Sell" up to Covington! :) Gwen

Anonymous said...

Amazing how we confuse the ability to perform well at a given moment with learning something about a subject. I've lost track of how many tests I took, aced, then forgot all about. I see my children trodding the same path and am horrified. Education should not be something that requires cramming info in, then tossing it out as soon as it becomes unneccesary. My children are too important to leave in that environment; they return to Montessori next fall.


Anonymous said...


It is so funny that you were talking about this. Jennifer mentioned something the other day when I was complaining about Teryn's lack of "product"- she said that student work is really about the parents. I disagree. I want to know what they have been working on. I can not just leave it to faith in a system, a person, or whatever. I want to know. In Montessori- there are no grades-I am fine with that. In Montessori- there are 2 conferences- I am okay with that. But I still have expectations about my investment in my children's educational experience. When a child spends 10 weeks hiding out in the bathroom instead of participating in school activities and working on challenging work- I am concerned. Should I not be? I guess that is the question. When should a parent be concerned? And when should a parent leave the child alone? Should parental expectations of the school, the learning process & experience, and products of that learning be taken into consideration in a Montessori styled education? Outcomes should be looked at. If our children cannot use the knowledge and skills learned in their educational experience- then what did they really learn? The learning has to be applied. I don't see anything wrong with that.