What is expected from education?
No matter the reforms, the education system has (for the most part) been a disappointment when it comes to what profoundness and inclusivity we expect from it at a deeper level of our consciousness. We don’t want to bombard you with too many words, but hear us out and see if you can relate, because we think you will. When we deliberated on how we can convey these expectations to you, we concluded on clubbing them into two sets:
A multi-disciplinary approach to building worldly wisdom
We stumbled upon Steven Pinker, Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, who discusses what is expected from education and we couldn’t resist quoting him all the way through –
“It is only through the act of establishing communication between the mind and the heart, the mind and experience, that you become an individual, a unique being—a soul.” Perhaps I am emblematic of everything that is wrong with elite American education, but I have no idea how to get my students to build a self or become a soul. It isn’t taught in graduate school, and in the hundreds of faculty appointments and promotions I have participated in, we’ve never evaluated a candidate on how well he or she could accomplish it. I submit that if “building a self” is the goal of a university education, you’re going to be reading anguished articles about how the universities are failing at it for a long, long time.
I think we can be more specific. It seems to me that educated people should know something about the 13-billion-year prehistory of our species and the basic laws governing the physical and living world, including our bodies and brains. They should grasp the timeline of human history from the dawn of agriculture to the present. They should be exposed to the diversity of human cultures, and the major systems of belief and value developed through mythological and historical tales – with which they have made sense of their lives. They should know about the formative events in human history, including the blunders we can hope not to repeat. They should understand the principles behind democratic governance and the rule of law. They should know how to appreciate works of fiction and art as sources of aesthetic pleasure and as impetus to reflect on the human condition.
On top of this knowledge, a liberal education should make certain habits of rationality second nature. Educated people should be able to express complex ideas in clear writing and speech. They should appreciate that objective knowledge is a precious commodity, and know how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional wisdom. They should know how to reason logically and statistically, avoiding the fallacies and biases to which the untutored human mind is vulnerable. They should think causally rather than magically, and know what it takes to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence. They should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.
I believe (and believe I can persuade you) that the more deeply a society cultivates this knowledge and mindset, the more it will flourish. The conviction that they are teachable gets me out of bed in the morning. Laying the foundations in just four years is a formidable challenge. If on top of all this, students want to build a self, they can do it on their own time.”
These draw very close parallels to the thoughts of Charlie Munger, who has argued many times for something similar in his demand for multidisciplinary worldly wisdom. We must be taught the big ideas from the big disciplines. Notice the topics Pinker talks about: years of organic and inorganic history, years of human culture, hundreds of years of modern civilization. These are the most reliable forms of wisdom and the education system is expected to include such modules for a holistic personality development and well-rounded mentorship.
A Space for Experiential Learning
We would like to quote John Dewey, one of the most prominent American philosophers of the early twentieth century, who expanded on the relationship between experience and learning in the publication of his well-known book Experience and Education (1938). He argued that not all experience is educational, noting:
“The belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative …. Any experience is educations that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience …. A given experience may increase a person’s automatic skill in a particular direction and yet tend to land him in a groove or rut; the effect again is to narrow the field of further experience.”
A shift in the roles of the students and teachers
Most teaching, particularly at the high school level, still involves the teacher as the authority and the dispenser of knowledge and the students as passive recipients. Perhaps the most obvious marker of experiential education is the shift in roles required for both teachers and students. Teachers who utilize experiential education become facilitators and, in doing so, engage their students in some of the decision-making and problem solving that have in the past been the sole responsibility of the teacher. In addition, teachers facilitate the transfer of learning from the experiential activity to the real world, structure the process of reflection for the students in order to derive the most learning from the experience, and ensure that the learning outcomes are reached. Some educators call this shift a move toward student-centered teaching, or a child-centered curriculum. Overall it means that the students are placed at the center and the teacher’s role is to develop methods for engaging the students in experiences that provide them with access to knowledge and practice in particular skills and dispositions. The role of the student is transformed in relation to the role of the teacher. Therefore, the student role becomes more active and involved, with additional responsibility and ownership over the process of learning, whether in an outdoor education program or in a middle school. For example, students, as members of a particular learning community, may be responsible for certain day-to-day activities, may be engaged in some aspects of curriculum development, or may be engaged in service activities in their community as a method for learning about different careers and contributing to their neighborhood. Whether in an outdoor education program or a service-learning program in a school, the student’s role is one of engagement and deliberation–a continuous cycle of action and reflection and consistent practice.
Assessment of Experiential Learning
Assessing experiential learning is an ongoing process based upon the learning outcomes defined at the beginning of the experience or program. It is important to emphasize that different experiential programs have different learning outcomes, all of which may be assessed using some type of measure, though much of what is learned may not be assessable on a standardized multiple-choice test. As long as the definition of learning is narrowed to rote memorization, quantifiable on multiple-choice tests, teachers will be restricted to covering curriculum and teaching to the test. There should be a continued effort to develop and share assessment tools for measuring student learning from experiential education. In addition, the culture as a whole should play a part in rethinking the definition of learning, taking into account a more broadly conceived view of the role of experience and reflection.
Again, the education system is expected to build such systems and spaces for experiences and experiment so as to make the learning spaces more democratic and effective. We, at Svastrino, aim to fill this gap by providing students with an environment of self-discovery and world-discovery through imparting ancient and modern wisdom about the art of living itself; and allow them an open platform to test out their theories without getting attached to the results so they come out as confident leaders and enterprising entrepreneurs.