“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
The pages in my teaching and observation notebook are split into “Problems” on the left and “Potential Solutions” on the right. Under “Problem”, I write one aspect of the current system I see as a problem and list its advantages and disadvantages. On the left, I propose a potential solution and do the same. I realize I’m new to this and to an experienced educator, most of this is going to sound incredibly naïve, but I’ve experienced at least a few too many negative aspects of the traditional education system to turn a blind eye. Instead of avoiding the problem, I’d like to be part of its solution.
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain
I love this quote. Because, while we learn a great deal in school, most of the important knowledge and skills in life are learned outside the classroom. Self discovery and development come from within and cannot be forced upon someone. Because of this, I’m lead to believe the primary job of the teacher is to inspire.
One of the problems I’ve noticed is that few teachers seem to really be excited about the subject(s) they teach. This either has no effect or decreases the student’s interest in the subject. In High School, I used to say “I don’t like History”. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a natural interest in the series of events that have lead to this moment and my place in it, I meant that I didn’t appreciate the way the subject was taught to me in school. But at a young age, it’s easy to confuse the two.
The solution? Like so many of the problems in education, there is not one definitive answer, but if I were to take a stab, I’d say teachers often become bored of their subject because some days, they teach the same lesson 6 times. While one advantage to this system is that it’s efficient and gives the teacher many opportunities to improve the lesson, a disadvantage too big to ignore is that they fail to ignite interest in the students because they themselves show no interest. How do you keep teachers excited about their subject(s)? One solution is to have them deliver the lesson only once, record it, and post it online. But real, human interaction is essential to the development of anyone, especially at a young age. Another solution might be to give teachers more freedom to teach multiple subjects, keeping variety in their schedules, or perhaps create more opportunities for interdisciplinary subjects.
Another problem we face is that the subjects we learn in school often have little to no relevance to our actual lives and only add to man’s alienation from his immediate environment. There are schools addressing this problem but they are far too few and far between. One of them is in Ahmedabad, India called Riverside School. Riverside was founded on the basis of a “Both/And” approach, meaning students should not only learn the quadratic equation, poetry, biological and chemical processes but also problems of democracy, human rights, and other issues which their community faces directly. This citizenship curriculum, which requires students from grade 3 to engage and problem solve in their community, is not extra-curricular but is an integral part of school at Riverside. And despite this additional requirement, students there perform better in their standardized exams than most traditional Indian public and private schools¹.
“Today, poor student performance is often blamed on laziness and lack of interest in students or apathetic teachers. These are however, only symptoms of a much deeper problem – an uninspired and irrelevant pedagogy and curriculum. Kiran integrated her knowledge of the design thinking process into creating an educational experience that was embedded in common sense.”²
While theorizing about the best approach to education, it’s important to keep in mind the big picture. Schools are not isolated from society. Teachers must be paid which means students must be tested, meaning teachers must teach specific content if they want to keep their jobs. Ultimately, our innovation must fit within the confines of the reality we live in, a concept called adaptive expertise. Unfortunately, the problems described here are without doubt the result of problems more systemic than I have time or brains to discuss here.
With the internet, most students have an immense amount of resources available to them at their fingertips. What they need is someone to show them what can be done with knowledge and expertise, assess and improve their critical thinking skills. Someone to point them in the right direction and guide their natural interests and curiosity. A role model of how to treat others and enjoy the gift of life. What I’m uncomfortable with is proposing to even remotely meet these qualifications. But what I’m realizing is that the students aren’t the only ones growing in the classroom. Already, I’ve learned and grown so much from this experience I’ve chosen to submerge myself in, and while every day presents a new challenge and there have been many failures, I’m so glad I did.