In the classroom, fierce allegiance to efficiency, short-term performance, and immediately measurable outcome result too often in the sacrifice of the experience of education on the altar of the product of education. In other words, the journey is often lost in the press for a destination. – Kathleen E. Fite & John L. Garcia, A Perspective on Ritual: Toward A Direction for Revitalizing Learning Communities
Why do we have formal education? Why do we have schools? We began the first part of our exploration into the impact of high-stakes testing on creativity and learning with this question. If we are going to examine what we are doing and how we are doing it, it is important to start with why we are doing it. In the last post we examined the wrong “why” – the wrong purpose for education that has become the accepted norm. It is not only the wrong why it is the wrong way. In this post, we’ll examine what we view as the right why and the right way for education.
Learning is Unstoppable
Learning is natural, all animals learn. Learning is also inherently fun. Just look at the joy of a young child discovering something new. Or, watch puppies play. Indeed, play is the natural milieu for learning. Dr. Timothy Jones and I wrote about this phenomenon in our book Harnessing the Dynamics of Public Education and described the two drives for learning: survival and curiosity.
Survival & Curiosity
There are, arguably, two primary drives for education: survival and curiosity. The first drive is rooted in a primal, instinctive need. [There is a] primordial need for understanding. Certain knowledge must be passed on to one’s offspring in order to help them survive. [For example], a species survival depends on knowledge that is passed down or learned through experience. This is true whether we are speaking of a lion cub learning to hunt or a human learning to swim or studying engineering – knowledge and know-how mean survival.
While this [survival-based learning] is evident in all animals, the second drive appears to be unique to humans. The second drive is rooted in more abstract thought and the brain’s natural instinct to ask “why?” This yearning… is not new, it pre-dates even the ancient philosophers. It seems that since the dawn of humankind, people have looked for ways to explain the unexplainable. Every culture has a creation myth. Every culture has found ways to explain the seasons, dramatic changes in the weather, and other aspects of nature and reality.
These two drives for learning seem to be inherent in human education. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato serves as an example of an early advocate for both purposes of education. His utopian republic was based on a survival of the fittest model (with survival as a primary force for education). However, Plato also described what could be called a higher purpose of education, “The ultimate end of all education is insight into the harmonious order (cosmos) of the whole world.”
The question for the present educator is this: what purposes (if any) are we fulfilling with our present system? Are we meeting the survival needs of our students? And, are we encouraging students to gain that ultimate understanding? How does public education balance these two drives? (Jones & Barrett, 2016, pp. 14-15)
Unlike the wrong “why” we discussed in our last post, the right “why” of education focuses on these two drives. Let’s teach our children the knowledge and skills they need to navigate the world AND let’s instill that sense of curiosity and wonder at the same time. Let’s give them the tools to explore that ultimate understanding about which Plato wrote. At Drawn To Discover, we are proud to say that this is our mission!
Continue reading Part 2: The What of Education and Schooling