Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What Exactly IS Education?

What does it mean to be “educated?” Most in today’s world answer this question by saying an “educated” person has taken the classes prescribed by a schooling institution and preferably finishes with at least a four-year degree. Our society seems to equate having a piece of paper from a four-year institution with qualifying a person as “educated.” But are they? Really?

I would challenge you to take a look at your own “education” as I look at mine. I graduated from my high school as valedictorian. I went on to get a four-year degree in Electrical Engineering from a reasonably good engineering school. So I guess I’m “educated.” At middle age, I would look back at my own personal experience and ask, “What do I actually remember from the classes that made me ‘educated’?” The bottom line is that if the information is retained only long enough to pass a test, then you really haven’t learned it; you’ve only been exposed to it. In math, I am incapable of doing anything beyond Algebra II without restudying and relearning it. This is in spite of having enough advanced math in college for math to qualify as a minor! How about Chemistry? I had an honors Chemistry class my freshman year. I could not have told you anything of substance about Chemistry within a year of completion of that class. How about all the EE specialty classes I took? None. Nothing. Nada. There is absolutely nothing remaining in my brain from those classes, and I can realistically say that there was little or nothing remaining within a year of completing those classes either.

I truly believe that I am not alone here. Unless a person becomes involved in his field, and thus immerses himself in the subject (there’s the key, folks!), it will not last. And anything that does not last wasn’t really learned in the first place. How many of your children have taken more than a year of foreign language? Have you asked them to speak it to you a year later? Or read it? Or write it? I’m willing to bet the normal child will be unable to do much more than a couple of words. (Hey, I was in Spanish Honor Society and took two years of Spanish in High School…but within a year could only count to 30 and say a few short phrases at best.)

So how does this apply to the education of our children? How did the children of the 1700s learn? They didn’t have scope and sequences. They didn’t have “professionals” to teach them. And yet the literacy rate of America in the 1700s was well over 90%! How could that be? That’s especially telling when you consider that the functional literacy rate of today’s America is around 85% (according to Wikipedia,) in spite of the enormous sums spent to “educate” our populace. And even more critical is that the average person living in the 1700s could run rings around most of us in virtually any subject outside of modern science and technology. Why? How were they educated?

John Taylor Gatto (not a Christian, that I can tell), former NYC and NY State Teacher of the Year, describes the colonial era education model as one where a child was taught the basics of reading and writing, and then allowed/encouraged to pursue his interests as far as they would take him by reading, apprenticing, interacting, debating…and then moving on to the next interest. This provided a person with an in-depth, thoughtful exposure to a subject that was meaningful to the person at the time…which then results in real learning: retention with the ability to apply, discuss, and debate what was learned. Great men like George Washington, Thomas Edison, and Ben Franklin all learned this way (Gatto profiles each them in his book, “The Underground History of American Education). And I believe this is more of the format that is used for learning at the PhD levels of higher education today. So why does one have to go that far in his journey of learning to get to a place where he can learn in this manner??? But I digress....

Back to the "key" mentioned above: My own personal example is when I finally got to USAF Pilot Training. I was in love with becoming a pilot. I dreamed about it. Every waking moment it was not far from my mind. And because of this intense interest, as well as the absolute focus of the training, I did well...and to this day can speak of details of the airplane I flew over twenty years ago, to include its aerodynamic specifics and entry speeds for various aerobatics. A second example is the Bible. Upon becoming a Christian, my interest in the Bible skyrocketed. As such, I don't chafe at learning theology...I embrace it. And by immersing myself in specific classes over time, reading good books, and discussing/debating with other Christians, I have learned a lot about the theology...and have retained it!

We in America don't educate our children that way, even as homeschoolers. Instead, we model our homeschools like a public school, with scope and sequences and hopping from one subject to another to ensure that “they don’t get behind.” (Behind "what" is never addressed.) As a result, our children never become masters at anything, but rather shallowly exposed to many things. That homeschooled children do better than their public schooled counterparts is mostly due to the effects of individual tutoring.

So maybe what we take for granted as defining an "educated" person isn't really accurate. Maybe we as parents would do well to take some quiet time and muse over what "education" actually is...even more importantly, maybe we should study our Bibles and let God inform us as to what He considers to be important. Then maybe we should wrestle with this definition and with what God shows us, discussing it with our spouses...and then most importantly, we should apply it to the raising of our children.

My guess is that the result of such an exercise will be something quite countercultural, but something that will result in children who are raised to contend for the Kingdom and who are well on their way to having the mind of Christ. That's the sort of child who will be an adult who actually impacts his culture for Christ instead of adapting to it.

Let's pray for impact!!!

[Update Oct 3, 2006... An example of impact!! I have begun reading "The Pursuit of God" by A.W. Tozer. The preface gives a profile of his life. It turns out that Tozer attended neither high school nor college! He wasn't homeschooled either. Instead, he was a voracious reader. And (to quote the preface), "With no teacher but the Holy Spirit and good books, A.W. Tozer became a theologian, a scholar, and a master craftsman in the use of the English language." He ultimately became a Godly pastor and an author whose writings have allowed millions to draw nearer to God. Now that is impact we could pray to see more often!]

1 comment:

Darya said...

Amen Charley! Just yesterday I was discussing this with a friend and how the Bible advocates walking and talking with God and immersing ourselves in Him for our wisdom, understanding and knowledge. If we model this image, our children will learn by example. In years gone by, reading and writing at a later age was all that was important and young adults went on to excel in higher learning institutions. The most amazing discoveries and inventions came out of that time, and most of these people gave God and their parents all the credit.