Which One is “Real” Education?

I have to share a quick story from a colleague that frustrates me. [A quick note – this is my frustration, not his. He was telling me about this class and I asked him what this past week was like, thinking it must have been an amazing teaching opportunity. He was, and is, quite professional about the whole thing and is wise enough to recognize that he has no choice but to move on. I, on the other hand, remain perturbed on his behalf.]

There is apparently a class at the high school called “20th Century War and Terror.” It sounds like a fascinating class, covering everything from the Armenian genocide and World War I to the Desert Storm conflict. If this class had been an option at my high school, I would have signed up in a heartbeat; looking at history through the lens of warfare fascinates me.

Needless to say, the last week could have been an amazing opportunity for students to study the subject matter in real-time as the Osama bin Laden story unfolded in front of their eyes. Talk about relevant learning – it would be like teaching a class on theatrical tradition when Shakespeare or Christopher Marlowe died, or studying music history when John Lennon was killed. I can only begin to imagine the possibilities.

I say “could have been,” though, because the class was not allowed to use computers this past week. 8th graders in our district were taking the online version of the state’s standardized test all week (and into next week), so teachers and students across the district (including those in this class) were asked to minimize internet use as much as possible.

So rather than analyzing the reactions from different parts of the world, discussing the ramifications on international relations, or researching similarities to other historical deaths, students were left to quickly gloss over the topic and then continue on with their regularly scheduled programming.

So I’m left with the nagging question – which one is real education? The state (and federally) mandated testing or the clearly relevant current event intricately connected to the course content?

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9 responses to “Which One is “Real” Education?

  • Casey Caronna

    Clearly Kevin, you already know the answer. The state and mandatory tests are not the real education, no where near the real education. What is happening in real life, the experience of real people and how they connect to who we are as humans, who we are as societies, communities and the environment in which find ourselves in, this is the real education.

    It is clear that placement and rules with trivial things such as standardized tests remain the real hurdle to implementing critical thinking and learning that relates to life and experience. So much of it is tied to the all might dollar — with standardized tests the government can see “results” no matter how distant they are from actual learning.

    Until we realize that education has nothing to do with competition and shouldn’t be used through a money grubbing “carrot on a stick” mythodology, we are never going to get our education system back on the path of innovation, creativity, critical thinking and experiential relation. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the parallel you saw this week.

    My philosophical view points are the exact reason why I cannot justify becoming a teacher in the public system — the strangle hold on what they teacher can and can’t do, what the students can and can’t do, is really completely counter-productive to learning.

    • thehurt

      Casey, not much else to say but, “word.” I love your word – “mythodology.”
      I will say, though, that for all the Bureaucratic Stuff (hereafter referred to as B.S.) in public education, there remain those moments of real joy and learning, like when a student laughs at one of the lines in “Romeo and Juliet” without me having to translate it. Those are great learning moments and, for me, are the real tests of the learning that is taking place.

  • Matt

    Kevin,
    I love reading your blog, it makes me want to start my own!

    I have been thinking a lot about MSP, as it’s presence has deep ramifications to my classroom (for another discussion)

    Thought I’d share one irony though: Signs all throughout my school this last week appeared that I haven’t seen before at any time during the year. They read statements like, “Go to bed early, get good rest!”, and “stay refreshed, eat healthy”, or “make sure you get a full night of sleep!”.

    I am thinking to my self, what message are we really sending these kids that we highlight these disciplines and healthy habits only during high profile testing and not during the actual learning that happens the rest of the year?

    Is three weeks of testing where class schedules are altered, labs are overtaken, curriculums put on hold, kids are bored… is that really what is best for the student? Both immediately and long term?

    Best wishes on the rest of your year!

    • thehurt

      Matt, you totally should! There is definitely a niche for elective teachers out there, and I’ve read only one good music education blog. I’ll even be your first subscriber. 🙂

  • Leroy Hurt

    I suspect the answer is all of the above. In this day and age, the focus is on what can increase one’s chances of career success. I have a feeling while we might assert the value of liberal arts subjects in workplace success, we don’t have a good way of showing it via research.

    • thehurt

      I think countries like China would disagree, which is why they are trying to make their education system more like ours. Instead of measuring test scores, they measure something much more indicative of success – patents. They view the US as a supremely creative culture, and our creativity has led to our success through innovation, which can be measured in patents. And they recognize that being great at one’s multiplication tables doesn’t necessarily translate into that kind of creativity.
      Of course, that’s not going to cut it here, because we can hold schools accountable based on patents – the results are not immediate enough. And that seems to be the goal – ensuring that everyone is doing the same thing in every school around the country.

      • Leroy Hurt

        The Chinese government will change its tune when their growth slows just as we’ve changed our tune in response to economic pressure. School district woes are a microcosm. In times of plenty, lots of programs get added. In lean times, lots of pruning goes on. The issue is how to justify the programs so you can retain them. Unfortunately, something like liberal arts, which I regard as essential to intellectual agility in the modern world, is a challenging case to prove when looking at budget documents. However, it can be done. West Point was the country’s top engineering school in the 19th century. As warfare changed, the Academy changed with it (http://www.aacu.org/liberaleducation/le-sp10/LESP10_Keith.cfm). Now it’s at the top as a liberal arts school (http://www.usma.edu/dcomm/PressReleasesbd/nr73-09wp_ranked_top%20_liberal_arts_USNews.html). The case was made because the Army’s mission and operational experience of interacting with other cultures and managing ambiguous situations was evidence a straight engineering approach needed broadening.

  • ro2011

    I love that you have pointed out the obvious difference between standardized tests and “real education”. I teach a grade that has several state tests. I refuse to teach to the test at the expense of “real” learning. I don’t care if my students can answer a multiple choice question about a vocabulary word. I want to know if they can feel for others, discuss ideas in detail and write with confidence and ease. The state assessment wants trained monkeys that know how to regurgitate information. This year’s state test asked my students the same question on all of the writing sections. They basically had to say the same thing 3 times and then say it again in an essay. It is very disheartening. And, of course, there is the idea that, no matter how wonderful my class is, or how great the discussions are, starting next year, I will be judged by their state test scores. Very frightening world we are heading into.

  • Kr2011

    I think I would be just frustrated as you were if I had heard this story. In my school we are often told not to give Hw assignemnts because of a state assessment that will be taking place and students are supposed to be spending extra time on that subject area. What absolutely kills me is that the students themselves say that they would rather do my work (observing the moon, collecting samples etc) and don’t plan on doing anything extra to prepare for the test and why should they? I believe the test is meant to judge their understanding at that point and endlessly drilling up to the test is not helping to give an accurate idea of their knowledge. To limit internet use is unbelievable and I can’t believe the idea was suggested. My principal is very good and trying to suggest current topics in the subject area my concern with her approach is only that she asks us to use specific links or sites in our teaching which at the time may not be the most appropriate. I think it needs to be left to the teacher to decide which format to highlight current event is best and all teachers should be given the green light at the beginning of the year to make adjustments as necessary to accomodate current events.

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