Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Good Education...

What constitutes a ‘good education’?  The answer to this question varies depending on your culture or your period in history.  In today’s American schools we believe that, in a democracy, all young people deserve a full well-rounded education.  The American education system is based on gender and social equity.  

American High School - California

We believe that our students need not only to acquire a sufficient knowledge base but also to be prepared as solid critical thinkers. We believe that students come to our classes with a great deal of previous knowledge, opinions, and ideas about the way things should be (some of it true, some of it false). 

Student physics project: Given these materials can you design a 'car' that will travel 40 ft.  (two mouse traps for power)

The 32 students in my class are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge – but in-process learners at different points in their learning, They come with different learning needs.  We recognize that humans pass through a series of stages by which we become able to deal with abstract ideas...Designing lessons beyond the students developmental level are doomed to failure.  We believe that our students need to be able to learn to problem solve working together with others.  In the business and technical world of today, product development, sales strategies, new research... all involve team collaboration and cooperation. 

Classroom designed in the pair share format - many opportunities for collaboration 

Much of our modern approach is based on the post enlightenment doctrine that truth is developed through open investigation.  We ask questions – we collect information – form tentative working conclusions – test these hypotheses – and either prove or disprove the ideas. Ultimately if you can't disprove an idea it becomes a theory... In science all theories are under constant scrutiny for review as new evidence is developed. 

Students engaged in problem solving activities
While they are arranged in grips, in this assignment each person is producing his own her own conclusions and explanations,

Prior to the enlightenment (~1600) and in some cultures today “wisdom” is the recorded ideas of the ancients ... the cultural wisdom passed on to today.  It was not considered suitable to question these beliefs but to learn them exactly so that it can be transmitted intact to future generations.  So our schools today, generally follow the post enlightenment model of encouraging questioning and evaluation of ideas, challenging old dictums that no longer fit our life and time.  But the issue of unquestioned adherence to dogma still persists in some communities.

Socrates taught by questioning - asking his students to defend their views - that can be very hard work for the students,  Socratic Questioning is an effective tool frequently used in todays classroom - but often to assist the student in organization of their thoughts into a final conclusion.

It is told that when Socrates was a young man he wanted to learn to be wise – so he set about visiting the wise men of Athens...only to discover, one by one, that they were not really wise – they only thought that they were.  As a result of this experience he determined that being truly wise was living a life in which you were continually open to new learning, the truly wise person does not expound “knowledge” but asks questions and encourages others to be open to new understanding. When he taught his students, he taught by questioning, He taught them to question... For this he was executed for corrupting the morals of the youth.
Teaching ultimately is a political act.

The British system exported to Tanzania

The classic British system of “public schools” (which are really private schools) valued the teaching of traditional culture – learning Latin as the language of the Roman philosophers.  Passing on to the new generations the collective knowledge of significant things that have been said and done in the past.  The way forward is to know what history can teach us. 

Education in a British 'Public School'

This system has now been modified to include science, mathematics, modern languages, etc.  The British syllabus instruction system includes a carefully laid out sequence of learning and activities that must be followed exactly by all classrooms.  The model has been borrowed and applied in other parts of the world attempting to improve their educational systems by emulating the British plan.

These young students in Tanzania will take 'milestone' exams at key points in their education to determine which educational path they may follow

Many European and Asian school systems have critical examinations that determine if a student will continue in a college track direction, enter training for a trade or a craft, or will end up in the service industry.  The advocates for this plan hold the position that due to preferences, learning style, family tradition ... not all students need a full college education.  In America we generally feel that such tests can unfairly target certain learning, social, or minority groups and prevent them from achieving what they are able to accomplish.

These young women in Kyrgystgan did not have the option of education - but at an early age went to work in a rug making mill

China and India today, with their large populations, has a relatively small number of highest position jobs awaiting graduates – so the competition in school is intense.  In many Chinese schools the school day goes from 7 AM to 7 PM, with a break for addition there is required homework after school/ The instruction is very proscribed and tests serve as intense filters to determine what knowledge has been acquired.  The system does not emphasize group work or development of creative thinking as part of the lesson.  Teachers are strict and failure to turn in homework is both disrespectful to the teacher, but viewed in a very negative light by peers.

An effective American teacher balances effective class management with well crafted daily lesson plans that both build skills, develop conceptual and factual knowledge and provide feedback to all students about their progress.  Its a tough job but rewarding!

Now I have some questions for you:  What part of your education process most influenced you:  Was it fact memorization? Learning open strategies for “thinking outside the box", group work activities, Laboratory investigations, on the job training once you were out of school?, a wise person who served as an example to you?  I wish I could sit down with each of you and engage in some Socratic Dialogue... I would love to hear your answers...

ABCs in the Achuar Language - Eastern Rainforest of Ecuador

Rainforest School