Determining what to learn

Bird Droppings December 30, 2011

Determining what to learn


“Suppose that we are wise enough to learn and know — and yet not wise enough to control our learning and knowledge, so that we use it to destroy ourselves? Even if that is so, knowledge remains better than ignorance. It is better to know — even if the knowledge endures only for the moment that comes before destruction — than to gain eternal life at the price of a dull and swinish lack of comprehension of a universe that swirls unseen before us in all its wonder. That was the choice of Achilles, and it is mine, too.” Isaac Asimov


I am always amazed as I listen to students say I am passing I have a seventy percent and that’s good enough. I thought about this as I looked over scores from our recent semester End of Course Tests yesterday and looked to see how some of my students faired. I sometimes wonder if students really learn anything from day one till the last day of the semester or do they simply regurgitate data and information to pass the tests. My son commenting years ago as he took SAT’s several times the more he took math classes the better his scores in math went and conversely one semester he did not have an advanced English class and he dropped a few points in the verbal section. Even for a good student is school simply a memorizing forum?


“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” Basho


“True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.” E. S. Bouton


I found when I began looking for answers that learning became easier. When answers were being given to me in a mandatory sort of way as in going to school I learned less. Even in college for many years learning was considered mandatory. I have observed many students and what they learn if they want to learn a topic they read about it, they look up information about it, and they have the desire to learn.


“The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is rather this: how can we make our teaching so potent in the motional life of man, that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual?” Albert Einstein 


For some time I would use this quote at the end of my morning Droppings and have it on my wall at school as a reminder and have used it in numerous presentations in graduate school along the way. How can we make our teaching so potent? How do we get information we teach to be what students want to learn? How do we get the desire to learn back in students?


“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. It may not be difficult to store up in the mind a vast quantity of face within a comparatively short time, but the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity” Calvin Coolidge


“Wisdom is like electricity. There is no permanently wise man, but men capable of wisdom, who, being put into certain company, or other favorable conditions, become wise for a short time, as glasses rubbed acquire electric power for a while.” Ralph Waldo Emerson


As I think back a few days to the concept of a democratic school where students pick and choose topics for discussion and learning each week which is the mainstay of educator and philosopher John Dewey’s thinking. It would be difficult to plan for a standardized test in that did we cover for example (inGeorgiawe had the Quality Core Curriculum and now most subjects are converted to Professional Curriculum Standards) item number 123 the classification of segmented worms? Somewhere someone determined in Biology that that item was crucial. It may be a history item about George Washington’s false teeth made from wood or why did Ben Franklin use silk cord for his kite. However it was one person’s opinion of what was important and then a committee decided it was needed on the test. I always wonder if they consulted students at any point in determining what was important.


“Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance. Where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor vexation. Where there is poverty and joy, there is neither greed nor avarice. Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.” St. Francis of Assisi


“Wisdom is the supreme part of happiness.” Sophocles


How would we know what it is we need to know and how would teachers know what it is we need to know in order to teach us? Using standardized tests provides the vehicle to measure but then we teach to that particular test or do not teach to it what then happens at that point are students no longer learning? If I know what students need to know before I start the class then I will gear the class to understanding that piece before the test. So in effect we teach to the test. We teach what someone somewhere has deemed necessary for a student in that grade and time and that may or may not be what that teacher or student wants to learn and or teach. That then brings back to the students who tend to learn best when it is something that they want to know and realistically teachers teach far better teach something they want to teach quite a paradox.

It would be a sad world if parents were told they had to teach their kids so and so today and tomorrow it would be this and that. Now that I think about it maybe that is not so bad. Except that someone somewhere will be saying this is what children will be taught and when. That system just closed down inRussiaa few years back I think. So if our goal is to train social animations to fill the factories as Karl Marx once indicated, is now the goal of education about the same as it was then and this is how we do it. Somehow we need to bring back creativity, imagination, wonder, choice, caring, real learning and thought.


“If you wish to know the road up the mountain, ask the man who goes back and forth on it.” Zenrim


In the past few days I have talked with several old buddies who have been in their time avid back packers and hikers. We were thinking back to the good old days when we would load up my old VW van and head to the mountains with only our supply of food or lack thereof to determine how many days we would stay out on the Appalachian Trail. We were joking about breaking in new boots. I said I learned from experience with a brand new pair going off to the woods, blisters and blisters on blisters and a few days later I learned about moleskin as well. I learned the way up the mountain from those who went before me and I now when I hike carry my own moleskin and well-worn broken in boots. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart. I saw the movie Avatar and was intrigued by the similarity to Native American thought and how all was interconnected although perhaps a bit more graphically for those who would not understand. Somewhere in my readings a graphic drawn by a Lakota Sioux holy man was very similar in its interconnections to the world of the Navii in Avatar. All is sacred and each interaction impacts the next and all of what we do is a flow from where we have been. An interesting concept so please remember to always give thanks.  



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