Friday, December 23, 2011

Education. Strangely, not a sauce.

Unless one is writing a thorough and detailed curriculum in which every person must know everything in the shortest possible time frame.  And then, yes, the process is the same as making a sauce:  toss all the essentials in, add some extras in for flavor, and let it reduce to it's essence.  Cool and pour into students heads.  Open (their heads) and check frequently.  


In all seriousness, what I am really trying to say is that one of my fundamental points of contention with systematic schooling is the reductionist nature in which teaching/information-transmission takes place. Which is to say that what is really fantastic and amazing about life and the world around us, what is practical and useful information, gets reduced to "subjects" which is further reduced to "units" which are even further reduced to "chapters" or "topics". 

The sheer awe of learning about solar systems, blue whales, 5,000 year old trees, physics, atoms, photons, the stuff of LIFE... are reduced to "facts to study and regurgitate".   Even practical knowledge loses it's value when it is taught as abstract concepts which are tethered only to themselves.   (For example:  I now know that Pythagorous' Theorem is supposed to be - or have been? - very useful for ... doing other things.  When I was in High School I'm not sure I realized who Pythagorus was or what he was trying to say or do with this confounded "Theorem" I was supposed to memorize.)

It is quite unfortunate that it is only now, in the approximate middle section of my life, that I am understanding how everywhere and relevant math really is.  I am referring, of course, to everything (one would learn) after addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (but I never did) - even the teachers* couldn't keep the real use of those fundamental skills from me.   

I digress.  

As I was saying
Life becomes lifeless, the 
Awesome! becomes awful, and 
that which is Truly Amazing is 
lost in tedium and meaninglessness
There it is.  


Rather, Meaning.  Meaning is the true vehicle of learning.  Meaning is the path that both leads us toward greater understanding and then past static understanding.  Meaning is reason, motivation, reward.  Meaning is questions and answers.  Meaning is departure and arrival.  Meaning is "Why?" and "Because."  Meaning is a bit - if not exactly - like the hokey pokey: it's what it's all about.

Even if the only meaning is to satisfy curiosity - it is still meaningful to the learner.  
Everything else is static.  As in inert.  As in, interference.  
Who cares about an A in science if the learner is not genuinely amazed or excited by all she has come to understand?  Both the grade assessment and the information has no relevance; no meaning.  

It's gravy.

* This is not meant as a blanket statement about all teachers.  I am, instead, referring to the self-perpetuating cycle I found myself in once I no longer "got" math, and then became the disdain of all the math teachers whose classes I struggled through feeling stupid and alone.  Woe was me.