School: Is it the only way to learn?

I have been a learner my entire life, and I will continue to be one until the day I die. I believe that it is impossible to know everything, and that we never stop learning. This idea problematizes standardized evaluation and education systems.

I absorb new information every day about a variety of topics and from diverse information sources; from conversations with people I know to film or TV video I watch to internet blog posts or newspaper articles I read and even the music to which I listen. I am constantly inputting information of all kinds. Some of this information is essential to my sense of self, mental health, and well-being. A single word or action can have a huge impact. Re-thinking or reflecting upon information, from one moment to ten years after I have encountered it can change it entirely. While a lot of this information (for example, a status update) is ephemeral and will flicker into unimportance pretty quickly, there is some info which is absolutely crucial to the very core of my selfhood.

I’m talking about things like, but not restricted to, self-awareness, self-love, self-care, and self-esteem.

These facets of me are always changing because of my reflexive learning.

Reflective learning is when we ultimately evaluate or understand information the second, third, thirteenth, or hundredth time we encounter and process it. Reflexive learning is when we reflect at the same time as we input the information for the first time. I try hard to be both reflective and reflexive in my life so that I can consider and reconsider multiple perspectives of ideas, situations, information, and lifestyle choices.

Let’s say I read an article about a political issue, but I notice a flaw in the argument which doesn’t allow for a certain perspective to be included? I have inputted the information, processed it, and questioned it. If I now re-share this article on social networking, commenting on the flaw I found, I am not only sharing the information I learned, but also creating new information for other people to learn.

I see the world around me as a constant learning process, where info is at my fingertips all the time, waiting to be understood, altered, and shared with others.

If life is a constant motion of learning, un-learning, re-learning, and sharing… why is there a common perception of knowledge-seeking as a purely academic pursuit? Why is knowledge gained from an institution – usually one you must pay to attend – somehow superior from other sources?

And why do people seem to have a misconception that learning occurring outside of standardized education systems is less valid, less authoritative, and less imperative than information taught in classrooms?

Tell me how a standardized test on a piece of paper can really evaluate and understand my knowledge, the way I process it, and who I am, in all of my complexity?

Long story short, it can’t.

Despite the fact that I have worked as a tutor, lecturer, educator, academic assistant, programme facilitator, and am training and gaining experiences as an ESL teacher, I remain pretty skeptical of the standardization of education.

I really believe that there is no way we can expect one system to meet the diverse needs of ten, twenty, three hundred, or thousands of students. It is impossible. In fact, it is limiting.

There is no way we can expect one teacher to support the individual learning needs of a classroom of 20+ people. How can we expect one individual to be an expert for so many, when, as I’ve said, no one is an expert at anything? So many of my past teachers could not realize my personal learning potential in a classroom setting because they had too much to do with too many learners. A classroom setting limits the input and output of information by controlling it so tightly.

I think this perception of knowledge and systemic education is really problematic. It pressures learners and teachers alike. I have met (and been taught by) so many teachers who are frustrated by their inability to meet the needs of their students. I can distinctly remember a conversation with a very smart teenage girl who felt that she was “stupid” because she received C grades in school, but she was a wealth of information. She just couldn’t function well in a controlled, systematic classroom environment, and her teacher wasn’t teaching in a way that met her needs.

A standardized education system puts the pressure on RESULTS, rather than the learning it takes to get there. It looks solely at the end products (the grades) rather than the development the students and teachers went through to get there. This is a huge problem because within this structure, both students and teachers feel like they are constantly being measured and found lacking. They are constantly under pressure to produce results that the system thinks are correct.

Let’s not even talk about when a student excels above their level and is put down for it. Or when a student thinks creativity or critically in a different way than the curriculum or educator and they are shut down or shut out. The sooner we stop expecting teachers to be experts filling empty vessels with knowledge, and quit assuming students know nothing and must mindlessly gorge themselves on ‘appropriate’ learning material without critical or creative thought, the sooner we can recognize that teachers are students and students are teachers. We are all learning from each other all of the time.

Learning is a dialogue. It’s communication. It is a community.

I think it’s time we started thinking about it that way and questioning how we can improve the current education system.

It often seems to be doing more harm than good, and creating unnecessary divisions.

Let’s change that.

When I was a child, my enthusiasm for learning was often misinterpreted as troublemaking and I was shushed by teacher when I was trying to learn and grow. Has this happened to you? Have you been the teacher who had to shut down a student in order to advance the class and meet a quota? Leave me a comment and discuss.

If you enjoyed this post, especially the thoughts on reflection and learning, check out last week’s post Scribbling: Reflecting on and Editing my own Writing, to read about my learning process as a developing writer and the importance of critical self-reflection.


2 thoughts on “School: Is it the only way to learn?

  1. Pingback: Social Justice: What Feminism means to me | Sunflower Symposium

  2. Pingback: School: On Assumptions about Teaching and Teachers | Sunflower Symposium

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