Education, Maybe It Should be Poetry

I was going to put this into my last post, but it would have probably obscured the point I made.

As I was writing my last post I started to ask myself what is education’s purpose.  We test our students to be sure they are making adequate yearly progress.  We want them to be knowledgeable in particular subjects and topics.  We seek an outcome for them that will lead to fulfilling and, hopefully, financially remunerative employment.  It’s not unlike trying to make a product, which then is a pretty sad commentary on the way we view education.  Shouldn’t education be more than trying to treat our students as some end-product?

After posting my last one a friend posted an article published from a Syracuse, NY newspaper to her FB page about a local teacher who filed his papers to retire.  He’s leaving two years short of 30 years, when he could have retired with a full pension.  At one point in his long resignation letter he wrote:

“STEM rules the day and ‘data driven’ education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education…”

(STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics.  The teacher is a Social Studies Department Leader.)

A bit of serendipity that I wanted to comment on the purpose of education and then got to read the this teacher’s story.

I don’t know why but I’ve been thinking lately about a story one of my great aunts told me years ago.  I shared it the other day with some of the inmates I’m currently teaching in the local house of corrections.  It’s a beautiful story about taking the civil service examination towards the end of the Ching Dynasty.

My great aunt’s father was young when he took the exam.  I think he was in his late teens.

People who took the examination had to go to Beijing.  The government administered the examination in a room in the Forbidden City.  Each person sat at a small table.  The tables were arranged in rows, like a traditional classroom.  Of course each table had its own brush, ink, and paper.

The questions were written on paper lanterns.  Backlit by a flame, people quietly and slowly paraded the questions up and down the aisles so the test takers could read them.  The questions, however, were the first lines to a couplet.  The answer was to finish the couplet with a second line.

The examination did not have anything to do with a specific topic – the objective was to find learned people for government service.

That said a lot about education and learning.  Education should be more than training for a job.  Education is to become learned.  Being learned implies knowing more than the narrow scope that comes with a job.  Someone who is learned can draw upon a rich wealth of knowledge as a resource to perform one’s job, thus enriching the job, but more importantly enriching one’s own life and the collective life of the community.

Shouldn’t our approach to education reflect our understanding of our community?  Or maybe it already does.

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About Quentin Chin

Eclectic interests: religion, technology, food, music, current events. I live in the reality-based world.
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One Response to Education, Maybe It Should be Poetry

  1. Bob Fox says:

    << Clapping for the Syracuse Social Studies teacher! (full disclosure: I was a history major). Another excellent topic, Quentin. I think we have, indeed, lost our way with the current education delivery model. We have become so focused on "teaching to the test" that only those things that are measured for reward or punishment are getting any attention and everything else is being tossed overboard because of limited resources. Consequently, we're becoming a society that always knows "the" answer (the one that leads to the reward) but doesn't know the "why" behind it…like so many mice finding the cheese at the end of the maze without ever realizing that the cheese masters are just messing with us. Consequently, we cannot imagine that there might be another equally correct answer (or a thousand correct answers, or none at all). I wish we could focus more on teaching kids how to think instead of what to think and figure out a way to measure and reward that!

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