Tuesday, June 09, 2015

“There’s really one good question to gauge the outcome of a student’s educational experience. Does the student want to learn more?" - Seymour Sarason

This quote was referenced in a discussion online, but I haven't been able to verify that it's accurately attributed. But it does seem pedagogically accurate to me.

Another way to say this, as I've heard Pat Farenga remark, is that you can tell the quality of the learning by who asks the questions: the teachers or the students.

These quotes describe a version of learning that might be called "liberatory" (liberal, or "freeing") of the individual mind. Of course, in juxtaposition, there is mandatory or forced learning, which is "compulsory" and more communal. That we don't have easy ways to differentiate the words education or learning according to these two ends is a part of the difficulty we have talking with depth about the topic. And in the current political climate, the push toward education and learning for jobs or national competitiveness fall so squarely in the latter category that the former is almost not talked about at all.

Here's a sobering quote from 1859:
"A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by a natural tendency to one over the body." John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
To be fair, between "liberatory" and "compulsory" learning is something we might call "apprenticeship" learning--fact-based fields of endeavor (e.g., law, medicine, the sciences) where there is a body of knowledge that must be acquired through memorization. While the usual defense of our current K-12 public system (and the associated high-stakes testing) is that it exists for the purpose of students mastering some common knowledge, an honest assessment would have to conclude Mill's contention to be more generally true.

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