I’m currently reading, “Climbing Parnassus”. Well actually, I don’t think it can be termed, ‘reading’, as you can’t just ‘read’ it in the same way you read most books. You have to study it, line by line, very slowly and with great contemplation. You have to really WANT the information in this book in order to find the determination to read it. But I do want it and I’m working, ever so slowly, at getting it.
Hubby made the comment that it’s the fault of the author if he does not communicate his ideas simply enough for his audience. That got me thinking about this. Perhaps Tracy Lee Simmons, the author of the book, was not seeking the ear of the average joe, but placing into circulation ideas that will be sought out by a minority looking to hear his thoughts.
In education we hear the same type of comment. ‘You must make the material easy for your students to understand, then you must do everything but the jig (and some teachers do that too) to distract your students while you pour the information into them and hope that some of it sticks.’
Is education only about what the teacher manages to get into the head of the student?
What role does the student play? Aside from ‘bums on seats’?
Does this kind of teacher-driven education even have any value? For how long will these spoon fed chunks of pre-digested information last in a child’s life?
Let me use my five years of high school French as an example. I did very well in French, gaining a VHA (very high achievement). I was considered educationally literate in French. I could read the class novels, write the given essays under exam conditions and carry out a conversation on any of the set exam topics, all in French. But what do I remember of it today? Very little indeed. Most of what I have is a vague impression of the information. Although I do remember the word, “malheureusement” because I loved how this nice long word rolled off my tongue. It means ‘”unfortunately”. But, malheureusement, this is not enough knowledge to say that my education in French was a success, despite what it says on my school report card.
How often do we hear similar stories, where people say they can’t remember a thing from high school – aside from their social lives? What was the point of those five years then?
Recalling my own teaching days, I saw my task as instructing my students, one way or the other, in the content and skills set out by our curriculum. When students failed, it was because I had not ‘reached’ them. I had not made the material accessible to them. But I’m wondering if there is a flaw in this thinking.
In the past, as the teacher, I have dragged my students up the mountain of learning. It was hard work for the teacher, pulling and pushing those students, some willing and some downright reluctant, up that mountain. I know I built some pretty good muscles from the climb, but I doubt my students got as much from the experience as I did. I wonder how many of them have just sat down where I left them or how many have got up and started seeking higher views on their own. It certainly makes me question the value of teaching as it’s done in the modern world.
Returning to the book, “Climbing Parnassus”, I don’t think Simmons wanted to make his book accessible to all. I think he has, very wisely, set his ideas high above us, like the topic he’s writing on, and leaves them there to tempt those prepared to make the climb to reach them. If I want to find out what he has to say on his topic, I have to strive to uncover his ideas and in doing so I gain something else of worth – more muscle power, as well as a higher view of the mountain.
I like what Simmons says, which refers to Classical Education, but which I believe could once have referred to all education:
“The bar is high, but we can reach it – with straining effort”
Sadly, modern education, has put the bar at an ‘accessible’ level to all, and has the teachers all but lift the students over it.
If we set the bar high in schools, what might this look like?
Perhaps the teacher would no longer have to dumb down the information but instead hold the learning in esteem above the children’s heads, like dangling a valuable carrot that students knew was important and rewarding to reach for. Yes, some would have to jump to reach and some would only need to reach up, but the reward would equal the effort. As, not only do the students attain the carrot, they also acquire the ability to reach higher and further. This kind of education would be much more rewarding for the teacher and of greater worth to the student.
And on that note, I better get back to “Climbing Parnassus” – both literally and figuratively. 🙂