Forget what you think you know about “education”. Perhaps you think it means being told things, being tested on them. Certainly the U.S. Department of Education thinks so: their website ed.gov, while never explicitly defining the word, demonstrates by reference that it considers education to be formal schooling, as measured by standardized testing. This is not education. This is a data-processing job meant to ready the student for the workforce, what Sir Ken Robinson, education innovator, calls “an industrial system…like you’re manufacturing products” (State Legislatures 2015); similarly, educator Paulo Freire referred to this skewed concept of “education” as “banking”, meaning the teacher is making “knowledge deposits” into the student (Smith 1997 , 2002), and then demanding them back verbatim. This is not education.
We need to pull up the roots of this entire concept of education, and return to the true roots of the word. Our present system treats students as if they were robots to be programmed, indeed “robot” is from the Czech word robota which means worker, which is precisely how the present methodology approaches the matter of education: producing workers. Robinson points out that, “Most national education systems weren’t invented until the mid- to late-19th century” (State Legislatures 2015), and are based on the mechanistic factory mindset of those times.
So what is the true root of the word “education”? It is educe, which means to draw out (Wordnik 2015), or bring forth: an act of eduction, which requires a degree of trust and space that is impossible within a mechanized factory mindset. Mark Smith, proponent of informal education, writes, “Education, as we understand it here, is a process of inviting truth and possibility, of encouraging and giving time to discovery” (Smith 2015)
Opponents of this concept will immediately point out that it isn’t enough to merely encourage students to create whatever they like, they need to have the grounding in conventions and the knowledge gained over the vast sweep of human history. There is no disputing this point, which is easily recognized even by non-educators, for example, performance artist and author Amanda Palmer, who refers to the creative process as “connecting the dots”, and writes, “you can only connect the dots you collect” (Palmer 2014)
There is however an enormity of difference between attempting to program the “dots” into a student, and what Robinson talks about: which is “creating conditions under which people want to learn and be encouraged and stimulated and provoked” (State Legislatures 2015) What we are looking for here is what educator Mark Runco calls “post-conventional thinking” (Runco 2008), a term he uses “to understand how children can both draw from their knowledge of conventions but retain the capacity for originality” (Runco 2008)
What Robinson and Runco are referring to is what Paulo Freire called creating a “dialogue” between teacher and student. (Smith 1997 , 2002) Rather than teaching to the test, which assumes that all students should produce the same results, we need to be teaching to the student, because each student is an individual human being, who will absorb differing amounts of the curricula at differing times, and produce differing creative output at different intervals.
The teacher, presumably, wants to teach, has information that he or she is excited about, wants to share, and wants to witness the students growing in skill and understanding of the world. Students, at least at first, want to learn, are curious about the vast world around themselves; want to know their place in it, and what they are capable of doing. This is the natural root of the teacher-student relationship. Like all of nature it is messy, contingent, idiosyncratic, and cannot fit into a pre-programmed mechanistic factory system. This is the root we must grow from, this is trust, this is conversation, this is nurturing. This is education.
- U.S. Department of Education website, accessed 29 October 2015
- “Sir Ken Robinson, international education leader: ‘creativity is the great driver of human achievement.’.” State Legislatures 41.3 (2015): 32+. Academic OneFile. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.
- Smith, M. K. (1997, 2002) ‘Paulo Freire and informal education’, the encyclopaedia of informal education. [http://infed.org/mobi/paulo-freire-dialogue-praxis-and-education/. Retrieved: 30 Oct 2015]
- https://www.wordnik.com/words/educe retrieved 30 0ct 2015
- Smith, M. K. (2015). What is education? A definition and discussion. The encyclopaedia of informal education. [http://infed.org/mobi/what-is-education-a-definition-and-discussion/. Retrieved: 30 oct 2015].
- Palmer, Amanda (2014) The Art of Asking, Grand Central Publishing
- Runco, Mark A. (2008) New Horizons in Education, v56 n1 May 2008 http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ832901.pdf accessed 30 october 2015