What is real education – What do your kids REALLY need to know

10 Dec

Are you raising thinkers, or are you raising fact crunchers?

This is the most basic question every educator and parent is trying to understand and what every school is trying to implement. There are thousands of different curriculum available – all claiming to be the best, most efficient, most effective learning material out there. There are millions of schools claiming to offer  (or struggling to achieve) some vague ideal where students excel and can then go out into the world to become fabulous success stories. The fact of the matter is most education is just a compilation of facts, figures, and accepted beliefs that we then expect our children to consume and regurgitate on command.

I propose that to truly do right by our children’s education we teach our kids to become thinkers and develop wisdom – even if this means they reach a conclusion that goes against societal norms or what we have accepted as truth.

Also something to think about… technology is advancing so rapidly that some of the “facts” we are teaching now will be obsolete by the time they are of an age to use it. So why do we wast their time forcing them to memorize? Time to move on.

What do young ones REALLY need to be able to do then? I have broken it down into three basic components.

1. Set and achieve goals. This is hard for a lot of people. How many of us are competent goal setters? But that is of no matter. We do not need to be an expert to teach. Regardless of what the goal is, the steps to follow are the same. There are a lot of really good resources for setting and achieving goals. Michael Masterson has a really good outline. But I swiped the following bullet points from Dr. Robert Anthony’s How to Make the Impossible Possible.

  • SPECIFIC – the goal must be absolutely clear and measurable otherwise it is just a wish. For example, I could say “I will learn Spanish”. But what does that mean. Nothing. How about “I will be able to read Don Quioxte in the original Spanish by the end of 2012″. Or how about “I will be able to have a 10 minute conversation in Spanish with a native speaker by Summer 2011.”
  • MODELING – sure you can muddle through life trying to figure things out on your own. But why try to reinvent the wheel. Find an expert or study someone who has achieved a similar goal and copy them.
  • ACTION – Well, this is a no-brainer. And yet, this is where we often screw up. I will never be able to read Don Quioxte if I don’t actual get down and do something about it. Even if I got so far as purchasing a foreign language program. That’s only one step. I’ve actually got to break it open and use the program. Then I need to practice. Then I need to… well, you should be getting the idea by now. I need to actually DO something. Find ways to motive yourself to action. Write down WHY you want to achieve this goal. In the words of Yoda “Do.. or do not. There is no try.” Or how about Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid, “Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do ‘yes’ or karate do ‘no.’ You karate do ‘guess so,’ just like grape. Understand?”
  • RESPONSIBILITY – I am totally responsible for my own results. If I don’t learn how to read Don Quioxte it is not because my teacher was lousy and didn’t like me. It’s not because my kids wouldn’t give me the chance to study. It’s not because my husband accidentally deleted my language program from the computer. No. I am 100% responsible for my own life choices and my own results and consequences. If what I am doing is not working, I just need to find another way to do it. As Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Or how about how Albert Einstein defines INSANITY: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
  • TIMING- Set a time frame for you goal, but be realistic on it. If there is no time frame, you goal will always be off somewhere in the future. But take things one step at a time. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

2. Get help when you need it. Yeah, this one is important. There are great resources out there in the world. We need to learn to use them. Even us parents and educators. How many times have you been stuck in a bind but were afraid to ask for help. Now, by help, I do not mean having someone else do the work for you. I saw this a lot in school and even right here in my own home with my own kids. We hear, “I can’t do this” or we watch someone struggling and we swoop in and do it for them real quick. Then we justify it with a “See, that’s how it’s done” teaching moment. Sure, the butterfly needs to struggle out of his cocoon. But there are times when we all must seek outside help, be it a master, a counselor, a coach, or whatever.

3. Work hard – fully and completely. Yeah sure. We think we all do this. We are always spinning our wheels. Sometimes I feel like a hamster running inside a plastic exercise ball. But I am not talking about unproductive busy work. I’m talking about when my son does the dishes, I expect him to do them efficiently and cleanly. If he spends 2 hours at the sink, sure he feels like he’s been working hard, but the dishes are still dirty and the water and soap have been wasted. Do your work so you can be proud of it. You’ve spent your time and energy on it. Why waste that effort? How many of us are sitting behind our desks at work just doing enough to look proficient. Just imagine what a different world we would live in if every one always strived to give their best… everytime. So, take some pride in your work.

That pretty much sums it up. Those three basic skills. Everything else can be learned when and if you need it. Is this what we are teaching our kids? And if not, why not?

Here is an interesting story of Henry Ford, who was often ridiculed by intellectuals for being uneducated.  He was asked to submit to a test by so-called smart people from the world of academics. On the appointed day, a group of smart people came in to give him an oral test. They wanted to prove he was ignorant.

The test began by one scholar asking him a question such as, “What is the tensile strength of the rolled steel you use.” Ford, not knowing the answer, simply reached for one of the many phones on his desk and called his vice president who knew the answer. The vice president came in, and Ford asked him the question. The vice president gave him the answer the panel wanted. The next smart person then asked another question and again Ford, not knowing the answer, called someone else from his staff who knew the answer. This process went on until finally one of the smart people on the panel shouted, “See, this proves you are ignorant. You don’t know the answers to any of the questions we ask you.”

Henry Ford reportedly replied, “I don’t know the answers because I do not need to clutter my head with the answers you seek. I hire smart young people from your schools who have memorized information that you think is intelligence. My job is to keep my head clear of such clutter and trivial facts so that I can think.” At that point, he asked the smart people from the world of academics to leave.

“Thinking is the hardest work there is. That is why so few people engage in it.” ~Henry Ford

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