Opinion | “Schooling” can interfere with our education
Published: Thursday, September 12, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 12, 2013 23:09
I had the wrong idea about college. Growing up, I envisioned higher education as a reprieve from what K-12 education had been; regimented, strict adherence to certain conduct and mandatory. College seemed like a hippie panacea of free thinking, self-direction and an environment to nourish creativity.
When I entered college as an admittedly naïve eighteen-year-old, I tried to apply this mentality and it worked – for a while. I was enjoying taking courses interesting and challenging to me, learning new perspectives from some of the best teachers I have ever had and interacting with my peers. I was reading books I had never read, getting insight into subjects I did not know about and overall, I had fun. Imagine that – learning was fun.
Until, of course, I had to address the mandatory courses involved in the Miami Plan. Certainly, criticism of the Miami Plan is a well-tread area and in fact, there are plans in the works to revamp it, which I welcome.
However, my problem extends beyond a mere objection to being forced to take math or a foreign language. Instead, and this applies to all of education, not just college, I contend the philosophy behind that way of educating is flawed.
I know a few professors and educators just rolled their eyes. Who am I? I am most certainly not an education major or anything resembling. Likewise, I have had conversations in the past with professors about this subject and was met with general scoffing, “People much older and wiser than you put a lot of thought into the curriculum and it works.” And therein is the grey area: learning by its nature is subjective; people learn with different methods and at different paces. Therefore, maybe many Miamians have no issue with the Miami Plan, glide through the mandatory classes, and go on their way toward completing their degree. I, on the other hand, must humbly voice my discontent.
Peter Gray, author of, “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Prepared for Life,” argued in Salon, “The top-down, teach-and-test method, in which learning is motivated by a system of rewards and punishments rather than by curiosity or by any real, felt desire to know, is well designed for indoctrination and obedience training but not much else.”
He went on to argue that education ought to focus more on self-motivation, as that imbues learning with the joy and fun we usually find to be the opposite in K-12 and even college. Such a notion of self-educating does seem counter-intuitive, especially with respect to children. Again, who are they to know what is best for their learning? Well, I would say, along with Gray, they are. I would think that most certainly applies to adults in higher education too.
Most assuredly, they will stumble, make mistakes and such, but that is the learning process, right? Besides, teachers can still be there, but perhaps thought of as “guiders” rather than “instructors.”
The most tragic component to mandatory education and a regimented curriculum is that learning is equated with work when it ought to be equated with the baby-eyed enthusiasm, curiosity and zeal for learning we were born with. A fascinating experiment Gray focused on, which highlights this point, is researcher Sugata Mitra’s famous Hole-in-the-Wall (HiWEL) experiment.
In 1999, Mitra placed a computer in a public kiosk near a slum in Delhi, India.
Children were free to use it. Mitra sought to demonstrate that children could be taught by the computer without any formal training.
Mitra said based off this experiment, “I now believe that groups of children, given the appropriate digital infrastructure, a safe and free environment and a friendly but not knowledgeable mediator, can pass school-leaving exams on their own.”
HiWEL is not without its critics and rightfully so, as with any system or theory of learning, it is not a panacea. For instance, Dr. Payal Arora argued a few apt criticisms such as the equity of access. In practice, boys tend to dominate the computer. Additionally, HiWEL is partially funded by the State, thus it strives to meet those standards, which, as she said, makes it as “school outside of a school.”
Nevertheless, I would contend that a new way of thinking about education beyond the rote Miami Plan, K-12 regimented curriculums and such would at least be a welcome paradigm shift.
Moreover, the reason most of us go into higher learning seems precisely the antithesis to learning. According to a survey sponsored by TIME and the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 2012 only 26 percent of the general public ranked “to learn to think critically” as either the most important or second most important reason people should go to college.
To be honest, I do not begrudge those that say learning in and of itself is not a primary reason for entering college. The average graduate in 2010, according to the same poll, had a debt load of $25,250. That’s a hefty price tag to “learn.” A degree is seen as an investment in a career and future monetary stability, not as the culmination of the inherent goodness of learning.