Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On schooling....

“We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control. Hey! Teacher, leave those kids alone!” – Pink Floyd, “Another Brick in the Wall”

Every student going through Maimonides at some point learns about the Socratic method; every student at some point thereafter complains about it. At its core, though, almost all Maimo students grasp the idea that debate and argumentation are critical skills to be developed, and develop them by arguing with their teachers about grades.

Ask a group of students to discuss, debate and argue about ideas, events and concepts in class, though, and many will immediately protest – especially if their in-class discussions and participation will be graded.

Students who don’t wish to exert themselves by participating in class tend to advocate for grades composed entirely of test and quiz scores. Students who are naturally chatty generally don’t complain much, but even some of them don’t understand why participation needs to be graded.

To answer that question, one must also ask – what is the goal of education? After all, the ends must dictate the means. Many students labor under the misapprehension that the end is the only thing that matters. Why do they go to class, write papers and take tests? To get a 90. Why do they want a 90? To get into a good college. Why get into a good college? To get into a good grad school. Why get into a good grad school? To get a good job. Why get a good job? So you can pay your future children’s Maimo tuition and have a vacation house at the Cape. (This, of course, will be a vacation house you never use since you’re too busy working long hours to pay it off.)

No wonder many Maimo students feel like hamsters on a wheel, running endless loops and never getting anywhere.

News flash: You’re not another brick in the wall, and neither is your education.

Education is about expanding who you are as a person. You have thoughts and ideas and opinions that are based on your experiences and upbringing. When you share your ideas with others, you contribute to the collective by raising new ideas and viewpoints. When you disagree with someone else in a class discussion, you force them to rethink their ideas. Maybe they’ll give in to your way of thinking or maybe they’ll think about it and come to realize that their opinions are reinforced by having withstood your scrutiny. Ask any one of your teachers what the purpose of an education is. Most will answer that education serves to test-drive skills and expand your ability to be articulate both in writing and in speech.

The course material you cover just gives you something to talk about and write about. Fat lot of good it will do you if you can’t speak or write coherently.

Do yourself a favor. Stop taking notes obsessively – in a year they’ll only be kindling. Close the laptop, stop playing Tetris on your cellphone and start actually thinking about what your teacher is saying. Jump off the grade-grubbing hamster wheel. Who knows – you may actually find that you are glad you live in a world where you’re encouraged to think for yourself.

First published in the Maimonides School Spectrum, Monday, December 17, 2007


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