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Learning To Appreciate Learning

“Mankind have a great aversion to intellectual labor, but even supposing knowledge to be easily attainable, more people would be content to be ignorant than would take even a little trouble to acquire it.” (Samuel Johnson)

On November 23, 2009, President Obama declared “Today, we are launching the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, a nationwide effort to help reach the goal this administration has set: moving to the top in science and math education in the next decade. We’ve got leaders from private companies and universities, foundations and non-profits, and organizations representing millions of scientists, engineers, and teachers from across America.”

This is indeed a lofty goal; but can we attain it? The expression “it takes a village to raise a child” should also apply to education. It does take that village to truly educate a child. But that education must start at home. Parents must instill a love of learning—lifelong learning—in their children well before they begin their formal education in school. This will take a cultural shift in how we view learning. Our education system teaches our children to take and pass standardized tests. This is how success is measured, by test scores. Shouldn’t we be engaging them so that they love to learn? Shouldn’t they be taught how to learn and to appreciate learning? Where is logical, critical and analytical thinking? And most importantly, parents should not abdicate the responsibility of their children’s education to the system and the teachers. They have to be fully-engaged and participate in the process. Once students begin their formal education, there must be a partnership between parents and teachers. And by extension all those involved in the education enterprise, both locally and federally (i.e., the village).

Teachers play a critical role in this learning venture but are they all prepared for the role when they enter this vocation? First, they must themselves be adequately educated, not just as teachers but also in the subject matter. Should someone who does not have an aptitude for science teach science? And second, there must be better evaluative instruments to determine whether teachers are effective or not and whether they should retain their jobs, or not. The teachers unions must stop protecting bad teachers and cheating our children from getting better educated. Instead, they should focus on how to increase the number of highly-qualified teachers and provide continuous professional development for those excellent energetic teachers who care about their craft. They should not be protecting the jobs of those who teach using the same methodology and philosophy they did thirty years ago, or even fifteen years ago. How can President Obama’s call to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world” occur in such a learning environment?

Some say that the voucher system will improve our education system by allowing parents to move their children to better schools. But this will not change the problem of how we view learning. Again, success is measured by test scores. This is why we need a cultural shift, learning and education should be important because they are necessary for success in our global economy and money should not be attached as the incentive (this is not referring to the need for better pay for successful teachers). It is this pricing of education that have parents of kids at any level of schooling from preschool to college saying they are the customers and the teachers should give them A’s for their tuition dollars. They should get the material conveniences for their tuition dollars, but learning is not to be bought.

Passing the standardized tests may be a good way to measure if certain things have been learned and memorized, but is it really preparing students for college or for postgraduate education and subsequently for a career in a global economy?