What’s the proof of your education?

Just listened to Diane Ravitch, the Research Prof. at New York University, talk about the perils of the current focus of test scores as the measure of how well America’s children are being educated.

Apart from the apparent shennanigans going on around manipulating test scores to meet Government standards, her assessment that the focus on test scores is ineffective to the goals of education reminded me of my own educational experience.

Despite two degrees, I no longer consider them as “proof” of my education.  You see when I grew up, and this still seems to be the case according to Ms. Ravitch, the focus was to pass exams, to “get” your education.   Your education was also referred to as that “piece of paper” that diploma, degree, or certificate that was the proof of your education.

I was naturally talented at passing exams so getting my education, or at least those pieces of paper or degrees came very easily.  The problem was that I was never prepared to apply my early education to real life. I would party all year knowing full well that I could apply myself in the last few weeks or months and still get a good grade.

And so said, so done.  Most of my early education was a transfer of book information to short and mid-term memory.  My “knowledge” of the material that I was being tested on would peak just at exam time and I would do well.  Unfortunately that “knowledge” was fleeting and it would be largely gone within three to six months after the exam.  I had no practice, indeed no intention, of integrating this knowledge so that I could apply it in my life.  My objective was to pass the exam, or get that piece of paper.

It was not until my first interview at the Central Bank in Trinidad that I got a real sense that “Hey, these people actually expect me to know about the stuff I had studied.”  A nasty shock and a huge embarrassment at the same time.

As silly or obvious as this may appear to you I can assure you that what I describe was very common in my generation and I expect among kids today if you accept Ms. Ravitch’s assessments.  There are entire businesses geared around getting students to pass exams, (Princeton Review, Kaplan, Inc.), and precious little discussion about what does it mean to have an education, what is it’s purpose and how is it best achieved – at least outside of high test scores, moving from one grade to another etc., and graduating.

For sure test scores are an important measure, but they are only one indication.   Without a practice of education that encompasses the process of learning and how to apply that learning to taking care of concerns in life, most of the so called education serves merely as a means of admission to different levels of an exclusive club.

Teaching children how to think, how to listen, how to influence (tell stories), how to dissect an argument, why failure is important, and how to sustain and grow your education – what I call practice education – should be at the core of young people’s education.   To me the real proof of “having” an education is not so much the diploma, certificate or degree but how it is being applied  to taking care of your and society’s concerns.

There are countless student “products” of our educational system that do not know what it means to think and cannot separate themselves from their opinion.

You can see it everywhere: people arguing points that they heard somewhere else, defending long-held beliefs that they’ve never examined, and denigrating all who have dissenting points-of-view.

From town hall meetings, to TV talk shows, to Congress; we are surrounded by “educated” people who don’t know what it means to have a healthy debate, who entertain the most absurd assertions, who are quick to believe the worst intentions, and who cannot see beyond their own selfish interest.

Perhaps these observations are a better measure (than test scores are) of the current state of our education.

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.