Education Is Not About Teaching

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This socialization ill lurks in the corner, ignored by edutheorists and mitigated by "classroom management skills" taught to teachers. Coming as no surprise to any of us who actually attended school at some point in our lives, peers, more than teachers, impact student success. Turns out that kids are -- surprise! -- "highly responsive to ... the prevailing norm" around them. This is why Dr. Sax recommends gender specific schools (more boys take dance in an all boys school; more girls take engineering in an all girls school). Students conform to the expectations of their peers, not the prodding of their teachers.

Playing-on-the-Beach
Playing on the Beach

Just one example to dig the trench deep:

One of my favorite high school teachers, Mr. Corson, was excellent. I rocked the Psychology AP test because of his class. But a few years after that, the school decided that it wasn't fair to have the great teachers only teach the honors classes. They brought in someone else to teach my sister's honors class and shuffled Corson to regular Psych. My sister failed the AP test -- the new teacher was terrible -- and the students in Corson's classroom didn't bother to sign up.

Everyone lost.

Corson took a massive pay cut and switched to a new school. Better to make less money and be allowed to help than stay in the sinking ship. Many teachers abandoned the school around that time. Bad management destroys the work of excellent personnel (which is another issue altogether).

This is why education is not about teaching. In many ways, education is more about becoming. I discuss this in my post about your role as a parent in your student's success; the great teachers who transform student's lives are more like parents, helping their students become better people, reach for goals, and work hard. Great teachers are not those who simply know how to transmit information into a child's brain.1 Great teachers, like you, help their students set expectations that are worthy of being followed. Education, then, is about making learning the norm. Sadly, this is all-too-often not what students get from a classroom.

Classroom socialization can be good. I took honors classes with the same 20 students all four years of high school. Our norm was to do well, to push ourselves, to work. But, as the originally linked article reminds us, it wasn't our teachers who created that atmosphere. It was us. Our teachers were skilled enough to harness that passion for learning and channel us down that road.

That's what you get to do every day with your children. As the parent, you get to help foster their work ethic and encourage their creativity and help them find their strengths while cheering them on through their areas of struggle.

There's much more to be said about this topic. Cultural forces spin tendrils of influence. Thus, the expectations of a student's background influences performance. As Gladwell pointed out in Blink, simply asking a child to select their ethnicity on a test dramatically impacts their results. The good news that I want you to hold onto through all of this is that you, as the parent, get to create that culture in your home. You have far more influence over how your children see themselves and others than any teacher trying to bring positive change in the sea around them. Like a pebble on a beach, they may form small eddies. You, however, are shaping the bay.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

1. I want to reinforce an important idea here: Teachers should be able to teach. In the case of my little sister's Psych class, the teacher failed to present the information well. Good teachers learn how to teach. But the education your children receive needs to be much more than that. You offer them those benefits when you give them a love for learning, a global perspective, a chance to take time to master the content ... all those wonderful benefits of homeschooling with Sonlight. And if you're at all concerned, I suggest you revisit Judy's fantastic post, "What if my children can't learn from me?" You'll be encouraged.

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2 Comments

  1. Education is not about teaching. Interesting stuff here.

    Have you written any articles about teaching at the college level? I know you wrote a helpful email to me one time about assessment, but if you have any posts about teaching college classes (I adjunct for a junior college), I would enjoy reading them. Next semester I am teaching ethics. At first I tried to teach facts; now I try to teach thinking. It is a major shift, and one I still have a lot of growing in to do effectively.

    Thanks. wb

  2. Warren, I turn many emails into blog posts <smile>.

    Since I'm blogging for Sonlight -- which offers K-12 curriculum -- I haven't written much specifically about how to teach in a college setting. ...plus, truth be told, I'm not sure how much I'd have to say on the subject. As with everything on this blog, my thoughts and opinions are based on my observations as a student; my limited teaching experience thus far has been with kids younger than college.

    But I have blogged about college and related topics:

    Not sure if any of that proves helpful, encouraging, interesting ... I hope so.

    One other thought: Something I've read about a bit is that without facts we can't think. We must learn things in order to be able to effectively think about them. But that begs the question: How do we learn facts? Lectures are not the best way to do that. The most effective way is to give opportunities to use those facts on a regular basis; this is what I call "learning by osmosis" in which we remember the things we utilize on a regular basis. I never memorized f-stops in film school classes; once I started shooting videos on my camera, then I had daily exposure -- heh -- to the concept. The introduction to the idea in class helped me when I encountered it in practice; so one aided the other in my learning.

    Hrm... much to think about. Much more to learn!

    Hope that helps in some tiny way. Thanks for reading!

    ~Luke