Report on “educated” #4 of 4

 The following is an unedited report from a Western Carolina University MAED student in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

What it Means to be Educated

Smaurtey Stewart 

Culture Agent, Sir Clifford Campbell Primary School, Westmoreland, Jamaica

Before I can respond to that question, I must examine the current purpose of education in the Jamaican society. The Mission Statement of the Ministry of Education reads, “To provide strategic leadership and policy direction for quality education for all Jamaicans to maximize their potential, contribute to national development and compete effectively in the global economy.” Clearly this mission is similar to many and aims to fulfill the purpose of preparing students to compete in the world’s labor force and ultimately acquire wealth if necessary. The question of “What it means to be educated?” is a challenging one and many scholars may provide several arguments to support the view that education is the knowledge and skills that one acquires. According to the Dictionary.com ‘educated’ means, “to develop the faculties and powers of (a person) by teaching, instruction, or schooling” another definition is, ‘the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills, as for a profession.” Continue reading →

Teachers need an inspiring definition, others don’t

Why do legislators, school board members, district administrators, professors of education, and parents define “educated” as scoring high on standardized tests?  In TSVOTEP I argued that the standards and accountability movement is the cause.  If we go deeper, we can see a simpler, more concrete reason.

The “high-score” definition of educated has been adopted by Americans who don’t need an inspiring definition. Teachers, however, need a definition that inspires them and their students. Policy makers, school administrators and parents only need a definition that can be used to hold teachers accountable.  Therefore, they believe the educated person is one who scores high on standardized tests — a definition that holds teachers accountable, but does not inspire.  Never once, in more than 30 semesters of teaching Introduction to American Education, did one of my students ever say, “I want to become a teacher to improve student test scores.”  That is simply not a reason that inspires anyone to become a teacher.

K-12 teachers need an inspiring definition of the educated person because they work with 20-25 students, five hours a day, 180 days a year.  If they aren’t inspired, they can’t inspire their students.  Our best teachers get inspiration from defining the educated person as one who: (1) is a life-long learner, (2) thinks for himself/herself, (3) lives a productive life, (4) contributes to society, (5) participates in democracy, (6) makes the world better, (7) develops the six virtues, etc.  It is ironic that legislators, school board members, district administrators, professors of education and parents want their own children to have inspired, inspiring teachers, but they have pushed an uninspiring definition onto teachers — ironic, but not surprising because they don’t get up 180 days a year to face classrooms full of needy students five hours each day.

It is time for teachers to explain that they need an inspired, inspiring definition of the educated person.  This is no small matter.  The definition of “educated” is the most important issue in the debate about how to improve schools.  Every improvement initiative starts with a definition of “educated” — either explicit or implicit.   Today’s improvement initiatives start with the explicit intention of raising test scores because that is how governing elites have defined “educated.”   This satisfies their need for a useful definition, but not teachers’ need for an inspiring one.

Here is my advice to teachers:

When policymakers, administrators and parents focus on standardized test scores,  you can agree that high scores are good.  Then remind them that everybody cannot score high.   In the world of norm-referenced test results, exactly one-half of students can be above average.  The other half must be below average.  It’s a mathematical requirement.

You should follow the policies of governing elites, but also explain to your students and parents that the “educated” person is one who develops six virtues.  Tell them you will model and teach those virtues, and students are expected to develop them.

If policymakers and administrators object, saying you are supposed to teach knowledge and skills, further discussion is fruitless.  They want what has never happened and never will.  There is no teaching-learning situation in which a young person learns knowledge and skills, without bringing understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility, and generosity to the learning situation.

Teachers need to model these virtues, so students can develop them and tap into them as they learn knowledge and skills.   If teachers do this, their student test scores will be fine.

 

Why do I pick on Bill Gates?

I usually ignore education reformers who have never been teachers.  I ignore them because they want to improve student test scores, while ignoring unequal opportunity.  Only philosophical, K-12 teachers understand that our greatest failure is not students’ low test scores; it is our failure to provide equal educational opportunity.

But I have written about Bill Gates in these blogs.  (See http://sixvirtues.com/blog/2011/07/19/bill-gates-teachers-are-like-athletes-artists-or-social-scientists)

I don’t know Bill Gates, but I know his ideas get a lot of publicity. Our society develops according to the ideas of people who have access to the media.  Bill Gates has the money and power to promote his ideas, even if they lack merit.  That is why I blog about him.

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Alfie Kohn on “well educated”

In 2004 Beacon Press published a set of Alfie Kohn essays.  The book title is, What Does it Mean to be Well Educated? Naturally I was interested.

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