Tuesday, August 16, 2011

education vs. Education: The Difference is in Expectations

BACK TO SCHOOL: With our kids starting a new school year, it's time to evaluate just what they are getting.  Is it an  "education" or an "Education."

education involves teaching kids a curriculum set to meet state standards.  "education" is typically teacher (and test) driven and its relevance is often missed by the students. "education" involves teaching facts from a textbook and worksheets with scattered tests and projects, and studying for state/national mandated tests upon which funding is determined.  For example, as a school consultant a few years ago (in a city school I choose not to disclose), I noticed the students there were given sample state tests in math and reading every few weeks.  Those students were getting an 'education' because there was no time to 'play' with the material - no time to integrate aspects of the curriculum into their lives to make it meaningful or for it to come alive.  No time to depart the text or to take learning tangents along lines students were interested in.  There was only time to cover what was on the test and practice test taking skills.

Education involves teaching kids a given broad "liberal arts" curriculum with the expectation that they critically evaluate and incorporate that curriculum - evaluating how meaningful it is to themselves and others, and expanding upon that core curriculum.   Education involves a wide breadth of issues and sources (textbooks, original sources and texts, computer/internet sources, graphic novels and classics) that are student driven and teacher facilitated.  Classrooms are interactive, and involve critical thinking, critical reading, and creativity.  While state and national tests are a given 'reality' - they don't dictate the curriculum, classes or content. For example, when my son was in sixth grade, the teacher told them that the book they were reading was based on Milton's Paradise Lost.  My son was so taken by the book, he read Paradise Lost and the teacher asked him to make a class presentation about it.  My son was receiving an Education.

The difference is in our EXPECTATIONS - Expectations in what our kids can learn and accomplish; expectations in what should be taught.

Expectations of what our kids can learn and accomplish:  While these vary from child to child, one thing remains constant:  Set the bar low, achievements will be low; set the bar high and students will rise to those goals.  The key: making learning engaging and taking cues from your students to facilitate learning and meeting challenges and expectations. 
  • IF they have NO trouble with the reading materials - increase the bar a bit.  Give them more to read; give them more to discuss; add depth and more analysis to the discussions; have them integrate more sources - using more extensive resources.
  • IF they find the material challenging - first, evaluate what is the challenge and adjust accordingly.
    • IF the reading material poses too great a challenge, switch it around a bit.  You may want to have them read fewer sources but notch up their critical analyses.  You may want to keep the reading material but provide resources to help them (for example: summarize what they will be reading BEFORE they read it; have appropriate graphic novels to complement the textbooks)
    • IF the reading material is fine, but the lesson demands are too challenging - switch them around.  IF there is too much writing, make sure that they write a certain amount but supplement the writing with other activities (creating a video, an interview, a diorama).
    • IF the class discussions are too challenging - ask the teacher to provide one or two discussion questions is advance that your student can prepare for (and be one of the first called on when the question is posed in class).  You may also want to record certain classes and review them together later.
In short, don't expect less from your kids and students - expect more, but monitor their work and their working process.  Tweak the working process - incorporating their strengths and affinities and involving multiple sources, resources and skills so ALL expectations are met.

Expectations of what should be taught: 21st Century Educational Leadership has some of the right answers.  They advocate for interactive, student driven education (that is meaningful and lessons that they can immediately relate to) with lessons that incorporate verbal, visual and technological literacies.

"Twenty-first century skills combining technology literacy, critical thinking, creativity and mastery of core subject matter are the lifeblood of a productive workforce in today's global, knowledge-based economy." - 21st Century Educational Leadership
This, however, is only part of the solution. Student driven education is essential - learning must be meaningful and relevant to students and they must play and interact with it.  However, there is something to be said about being well read... Being able to go into any social situation and join others' conversations - regardless of the topic.  Knowing classics in literature, philosophy, economics are as important as history, science and math.  Classic literature and philosophy represent where our ideas and ideals originated and are important in helping to determine and chart where we must go.  I firmly believe in integrating comics, computers, and classics. 

What do you think?  What type of education did you receive?  What type of education is your child receiving? How can we get our teachers to Educate (let me know if you want to continue this discussion)?


  1. You elucidated the issue so very well, Meryl. Somehow I think I received both types, little e and big E.
    A Catholic grade school and high school in the 40's and 50's was pretty much little e, what you must commit to memory in order to be educated. And I did well on the tests, SAT or ACT, and later GRE. But I got the Big E while attending a liberal arts college run by an amazing group of Dominican nuns in the early 60's. Sophomore year was basically one course: the culture of Europe from the Middle Ages, art, music, literature, philosophy, history and senior year we studied the new nations of Africa and their cultures. I entered into a world that was beyond any I had ever known! I am sickened by dominance these days of the little e and I regret very much what it and the testing mania have done to the whole concept of learning as an individual and as a community. Sorry to go on so.

  2. It was so long ago, I really don't remember. I think after graduation I learnt a lot of things in the "School of Hard Knocks" so to speak. I think the great thing about education it never needs to end, if we want it that way. I still like learning new things, and I'm no Spring Chicken.

  3. I liked my education, but fear for the teaching to the test.

  4. I agree with you about the importance of studying the classics...

  5. I'm from the era of rote learning - spewing back what the teacher lectured or what the textbook said. As a teacher, my philosophy was that if it weren't fun for ME, then it weren't fun for the kids! I incorporated all types of learning - sometimes rote is necessary but usually I brought some sort of game into it. I brought in videos, special guest speakers, had kids do book reports orally where they could do it in any way they wanted - some dressed up as characters, some did posters, some made videos or got others in the class to create a scene from the book. When assigning major projects, I always had lots for kids to choose from. Those who were great writers could write if they chose and those who weren't great writers could do other things - a play, something artistic, or computer generated. These were intermediate grade kids and it was so much fun watching them choose (with my support & approval) their projects and share their ideas with others. I do miss parts of being in the classroom, but frankly, the administration (and some parents) just ruined it for me - abiding by the "rules," teaching to the annual government "tests" that graded schools according to the results of the kids' scores, etc. SO WRONG! Now I tutor kids privately - those who WANT to learn and to do well in school regardless of the learning style used in the classroom. I'm looking forward to a new school year with "my" kids now! Great post, Meryl.

    abcw team

  6. Education is always a necessary thing for "knowledge is power" but one whould always complete it when they start since "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" ;)

    Pheno, ABCW Team

  7. A good mixture of fun learning is always the best.

  8. My kind of post. This is why my favorite definition of Education is change for the better.

  9. Good post about E/education. I think teaching towards a state curriculum with the expectation that students spit back what they've learned is minimal and frustrating for children that are capable of so much more. There aren't any easy answers but I'm in favor of a broad based liberal arts curriculum. If students master that they shouldn't have any trouble with the tests. If they are taught with the idea that all they have to master is what's likely to be on state tests they suffer in the long run.

  10. you bring up valid points. I do not think that education is Important anymore in the US, sadly. I see other agendas being pumped into the students today and even 17+ years ago when both my boys where in school. too much stress on politically correct and lots of teachers that really are not interested in teaching, just doing it because they can not find a job in the field they really wanted. when my oldest was in elementary school we were told he had a learning disability but there was no 'formal' lesson [plan for it... so they adjusted his work load & had the less # also relate to having a higher amount correct to get his grade. But high school had nothing to offer, we went o conferences but were never told what we could do to help him and that they had nothing to offer... he barely skated by to graduation. the sad part is that when tested in elementary school (& later) he could read & comprehend way beyond his grade level ( the 1 child that followed my love of reading) but he could not get it down on paper... he could verbally get all the answers correct, but not if it had written quiz. both are very creative & have a great work ethic & work hard. The oldest works in a production (coffee manufacturing) industry that he started on the bottom but learned everything he could & joined committees ect and now is one of the top people in the production floor( & 1 of top coffee roasters & quality control). the youngest had "math" problems in elementary school & they took him out for special classes... I think that lasted only 1 semester as he hated being "spotted out" and in his opinion looking "stupid" for needing special help, he over came what his problem was, if there was really one ( I think he was bored) and eventually had high grades throughout his academic career... he also 'hated' reading, he use to tell me it was wasting time ( he would rather be active outside, LOL) this son went on to getting a degree in computers & communications and had to take very hard advanced math classes which he really did not have problems with... we always encouraged them both, and helped where we could and with ways we only knew how too, but both later kept us out of any loops if they were having any issues & worked them out themselves. we are proud of both. so the "system" back then, which tried to help & teach, was of little help, but we as parents made them still be responsible for what ever they did educational or in life. the 'system' now seems to have taken all control, responsibility & discipline out if the parents & teachers ( those that are interested in their students)hands... leading to a lot of kids that just do not learn the basics let alone any respect and only few that really want to learn & go on to higher education or on the job skills for a responsible way to earn a living wage. JMHO.
    the states & government in general need to stop 'dumbing' down our kids and let them learn, give the yearning to learn more & of course just be respectful of others. sorry I rambled, and maybe got off target... I enjoy your thoughtful posts.

  11. I tell my community college students that "knowledge is power...but action is what fuels it." Kind of like "faith without works is dead," I feel that knowledge without action is a bunch of things learned rattling around in one's head. I teach my courses in ways that encourage research and reading beyond the textbook, sharing of personal experiences that relate to our topics, engaging in discussion with classmates, imagining how the past (for my ancient studies courses) influences the present, and (in my global women's issues class) how students can step beyond the classroom to help make positive differences in the lives of women in other parts of the world.

    I fully agree with the differences between "education" and Education as Meryl presented them. We live in a time when children/youth have access to infinite amounts of knowledge; far and above what people of my generation had. I feel that teachers must acknowledge this fact and use the opportunity to guide students into critical evaluation and thinking. And how to use the global network wisely and creatively for their present and future success.