Education and School
By Thomas Wilkie and Tim Adowski
As the world moved inside and virtual became the norm, it made Thomas take a step back and reflect on the role that schools play in education. Thomas shared his ponderings with Tim, and Tim wrote a reflection of his own.
With the new school year upon us and still much uncertainty, we invite you to join us in reflecting on the meaning of education and school.
For as a wise teacher once taught both of us, "cuando para el boli, para el aprendizaje."
May we never put the pen down.
My summer job during college was “supervising” a neighborhood park. We had a playground, swings, sprinkler, a field, and a building for doing crafts and playing games. I worked there for 5 summers and I absolutely loved it.
Most of the kids were middle school age, which means I spent a lot of time trying to, let’s say, diffuse conflicts. And while there was little the kids ever agreed on, the one thing they seemed to share was a dislike towards school.
The kids would often protest when I tried to “teach” them anything on the basis that it was summer and they didn’t have to learn. As I labeled our building with Spanish vocabulary, my real goal was to impart the importance of an education, regardless of whether or not they “liked” school.
I think about those kids often, and how much I learned from them. After months of quarantine, I have had more time to think about that distinction I tried to make to them between school and education.
I have reflected on this topic many times and in many ways, and I am by no means the first person to do so. But the need to reevaluate how we approach school, and how we value education has become ever more apparent in the face of a worldwide pandemic.
Why do we go to school?
Well, to learn of course.
But to learn about what?
I think we are all realizing the promises of technology have on some level delivered, but on others, they have fallen short.
Technology has been the foundation upon which we have been able to maintain any semblance of a normal life in these too-often-called "unprecedented times."
However, we can also agree that it is no substitution for in-person interaction.
Now, these are extreme circumstances, but sometimes we need to be taken to extremes to realize many of our behaviors and assumptions are built around false pretenses.
Technology cannot replace. It can substitute, it can augment, but it cannot replicate what occurs when people connect in the flesh.
Now, what does this mean for education? Does this mean we abandon the technology once we return to our beloved classrooms?
No. If anything, we need to make technology a bigger part of our usual classroom lives.
That is not to say we need to go 100% digital like we are now, but I think many of us agree that we were not prepared as well as we could have to move what we teach to a world of 1s and 0s.
Again, we cannot replace what teachers do in the classroom, but that is my point about making the distinction between education and school.
Technology helps us deliver an education. Education is about learning content in a specific field of study in order to demonstrate some level of competence in that domain. Whether that be knowing critical facts pertaining to that discipline, or being able to apply that specific knowledge to a particular task or problem.
When I worked with the kids, I was trying to get across to them that even if they do not like school, they need to learn and know about something!
However, school is about so much more than what can be learned in books or on the internet.
And that is what we are missing now more than ever.
I think we are also realizing that we are not machines built to consume content all day. We need balance, and this pandemic has certainly thrown a wrench into that idea.
I have been reflecting on the thought that the purpose of going to school is to learn about different ways of being.
Teachers are the primary examples as the de facto leaders, but we also learn how to be from our classmates.
We learn of different approaches to tackling this life, whether that be through humor or steadfast dedication to a routine. Through emotional out-pouring or stoic calmness.
Each individual we encounter has a unique way of attacking the world we live in, and it is through interacting with these people, we forge our own way.
Like a good stew, filled with a little bit of everything, the flavors mix to create a dish that is not only unique, but delicious, nutritious, and filling.
The park was much like a school, where I was the teacher, but without any content to teach. So instead, I tried to teach the kids to be kind, to respect one another, and that learning can be fun!
Education and school are intertwined, but different. We learn the facts of each subject, but each subject also has its own approach to understanding the world. School allows us not only to explore the content of these subjects, but to do so within a community of learners. This community is how we deepen, expand, and challenge our learning.
As we await to return to the classroom, continue to do what you can maintain that community in these online environments. Like I said, technology cannot replace what we do when we are physically together, but we need to make sure that we continue to go beyond the content.
Continue to be a positive example of how to be, in good times and in bad.
So, the school system is kind of a mess right now thanks to COVID.
Every news channel is filled with discussions, debates, and opinions on how to best deal with the current circumstances, while also allowing education and learning to continue.
But that brings up an interesting distinction that seems to be getting lost all too often lately: school vs education. Those terms seem to be used fairly interchangeably, but should they?
If two words mean the exact same thing, why do we need both of them?
Schools are places of learning, be they physical buildings or virtual classrooms. You go to school to learn things. But in my opinion, education is much more than that. Knowing a thing is much different than understanding it. A great analogy is times tables in math. I can memorize the table and be limited in my multiplicative abilities to what is given in that specific table, or I can understand how multiplication works and be able to multiply any two numbers together, whether they are on a table or not.
But, even if I understand how to multiply arbitrary numbers together, at some point I need to know the basic times tables. Breaking 101x102 into (100x100)+(100x2)+(1x100)+(1x2) still requires knowledge of how to solve all 4 of those sub-problems. You need to have learned the underlying knowledge (school) in order to apply it to a larger problem (education). In my opinion, the main job of school is not to provide an education, but to provide the start of education.
Just think, if you must go to school to get an education, then are you no longer learning once you graduate? Of course not!
In many cases, you start learning more once you leave school and move into a new job, trade, or whatever your future holds. Why is that? Because you start encountering real-world problems that don’t have a clear path to a solution. You have all these facts and concepts and knowledge from your schooling, and now you must call upon and apply them.
And that is my point. Just because “school” looks different right not, doesn’t mean each and every student (and teacher!) can’t still be educating themselves and others.
We may need new tools and methods to teach students the knowledge they will need, but the overall goal is still the same: learning. Building that foundation for continuing education.
And I think that is the most important lesson we can learn from this whole situation. Students needs to understand, and teachers need to constantly impress, that even though school doesn’t look or feel like it used to, students can still be learning and exploring and expanding and growing.
I never liked the phrase “get an education.” “Getting” an education, to me, sounds like a one-off thing. Something you do, you complete, and then you move on from.
Education should be a constant in and throughout our lives. Every situation in life, from the mundane to the exceptional, is an opportunity to learn. The most valuable lesson I was ever taught is that “the learning never stops.”
When you go looking for something new, something interesting, something unexpected, you often find it. Every experience teaches us something. And that’s why it’s not the end of the world that the school system has been turned on its head recently.
Teachers will continue to engage with their students and will continue to inspire them to find their passions in life.
And students will continue to learn and grow and succeed because even though their school may look and feel different, their education never stops.
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