Friday, March 29, 2013

doing real things: authentic education...

Lake Monona in spring. Ice is nice when the sun comes up and it's 55°
My wife and I are visiting my daughter in Madison, Wisconsin where she is in graduate school. She's down to her last class, her last semester, coming close to the conclusion of her research, and can smell the barn. I can remember my last days of undergraduate school during which I was more than ready to get into the real world*, and into real work** of some kind.

One thing that all students seem to know about school is that it is artificial, that in some cases it has only tenuous connection to real life. It is claimed that education is preparation for real life. We know the statistics tell us that those with more education make more money in real life than those who do not. And yet we know when we question the efficiency of formal education that nearly 50% of teachers with masters degrees in education leave the field within 3-5 years. All kinds of students move on to fields other than those in which they invested heavily in time and money to enter.  I, for example, graduated with my major in political science to become a woodworker, a field in which my only formal training came in the 7th and 8th grade shop classes.

The problem as I see it is the failure to connect the abstract with the concrete. For example, if students hoping to become teachers were to teach first, and learn about education concurrent to their teaching, they would surely know whether or not it was a field in which they hoped to invest a lifetime of learning and continuous study.

If those getting degrees in political science were put in situations in which they were actually using what they learned, they might better direct their learning energies to greater effect.

So that is where my friends Elliot's and Charlie's new book Leaving to Learn comes in. We learn best when we can connect what we are learning to real things that we are actually doing in real life to benefit family and community.

Is that so hard to explain to explain to anyone? Dewey knew it and said it. Saloman and Cygnaeus and Pestalozzi explained it and demonstrated it and devised educational methods to make use of it. There is no better way to learn than by doing real things, and by being of real value to family and community. The great shame of modern education is that we squander our most valuable resource... that of being  purposefully engaged in real life. The strategic engagement of the hands in learning can fix all that.

The photo at the top of the page is Lake Monona. The very small figures at the center of the ice are a man and two dogs.

Make, fix and create...

*world (n.) Old English woruld, worold "human existence, the affairs of life," also "the human race, mankind," a word peculiar to Germanic languages (cf. Old Saxon werold, Old Frisian warld, Dutch wereld, Old Norse verold, Old High German weralt, German Welt), with a literal sense of "age of man," from Proto-Germanic *wer "man" (Old English wer, still in werewolf; see virile) + *ald "age" (see old).

**work (n.) Old English weorc, worc "something done, deed, action, proceeding, business, military fortification," from Proto-Germanic *werkan (cf. Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutch werk, Old Norse verk, Middle Dutch warc, Old High German werah, German Werk, Gothic gawaurki), from PIE root *werg- "to work" (see urge (v.)).

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