September 29th, 2012Not About Educationby Dena Hunt
Joseph’s recent post on the “traditio” seminar at Thomas More College brought education to mind. I try to avoid thinking about that subject—I don’t like to get all worked up about things I can do nothing about.
I taught for roughly a thousand years before I retired, but I should acknowledge up front that teaching wasn’t an intended profession. The only reason I did it was to feed my learning habit. I was thirty-two when I started college. The explanation for that tardiness is unimportant; the point is that it was a whole new world for me, and I was having a great time. Then I got a call from the dean congratulating me on making summa cum laude. That was news—I’d just been grieving because it was all over. So, since a summa in English won’t buy a cup of coffee, I needed to finance graduate school. I started teaching as a TA, then as an adjunct the week after receiving the MA, and so on . . . finally retiring altogether in 2010.
Since I never majored in that discipline absurdly called “Education,” I never approached my job with some kind of fixed notion about what it was or how I should go about it. The classes I took in Education were post-graduate and the barest minimum required for credentials, M.Ed, S.Ed., and all those interminable dog-and-pony shows which state Departments of Education love to spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars on, and which waste millions of hours of teachers’ precious time that could be spent on lesson plans, grading papers, and the things that teachers really do have to do. (But state Departments of Education don’t actually know anything about what we do. The one group never consulted about teaching is teachers.)
When I first taught Freshman English in college, I was ready to line up every high school English teacher and have them all shot. My students couldn’t put a subject and predicate together—let alone do it agreeably. But when I became a public high school teacher myself, I got my come-uppance. Any teacher who can actually teach a student to put a subject and predicate together is a miracle-working Annie Sullivan. Now, after the rough thousand years, I have a few statements to make about the subject of education, not explicating any of them, lest I get all worked up.
1. Teaching is probably the single most abused profession there is.
2. Know: Training is NOT education.
2.a. The latter is all but extinct, having died a slow and painful death after many years of re-defining “education” to meet the social, economic, and political aims of the state.
2.b. The former is simply a bottomless pit into which enormous sums of public monies are thrown whenever some politician comes up with a new plan for improving “education.” The longer the state denies that it has changed “education” to “training,” the deeper that pit becomes.
3. (continuation of 2.b., actually). There is more waste in public-funded education than in any other governmental bureaucracy—bar none, including the military.
4. Parents should recognize that there is little actual education going on in public schools. There is stuff going on there, yes, but almost none of it is education. Students who manage to get any education at all in public schools bump into it accidentally and wonder, briefly, what it was that disturbed them before continuing their lessons in how to pass standardized tests while avoiding actually learning anything, and how to have a full and varied sex life while avoiding the equal plagues of pregnancy and STDs. (Everybody knows, these are the consequences of “lack of education.”) If the student is a white native-born American heterosexual male, he will probably also learn that he and his kind are responsible for the evil in the western world—especially if he is a Christian, and most especially if he is a Catholic Christian. And he will receive the help he needs in order to atone for this evil. (All other students learn their assigned niche in various classifications of victimhood. They receive the help they need in asserting the rights endowed to them by the state.)
5. Parents who want an actual education for their children should either home-school them or send them to one of the few Catholic schools that remain committed to education. Move, if necessary, to another state. Work two (or three) jobs if necessary. Hire tutors (why don’t more people do this?) from schools like Thomas More College—students who may need the money or value the experience.
6. Parents who choose not to involve themselves in the education of their children should prepare themselves for the sudden appearance of an alien monster living in their homes, just as they should prepare themselves for a cat-5 hurricane when the emergency warning comes.
7. Bottom line: A student who wants to learn, will. A student who doesn’t want to learn, never will—no matter what you do, no matter how much you spend, no matter how much you bribe or threaten a teacher, an administrator, a school board member, or a congressman/woman. The single truly important contribution a parent can make to a child’s education is to instill in him a desire to learn.
1. If you want to “give” anybody an education, you must first of all get one. Nobody can give what they don’t have. First, go get an education yourself.
2. You will not get an education in the College of Education. Get out of there. Good teachers are born and not made.
3. If you love it, you’re probably good at it, and it’s probably what you ought to be doing. Find a school that appreciates good teaching—and go there, even if it means less pay.
FOR TEACHERS ONLY:
1. Education comes from the verb educe, which means “to draw forth,” a definition which implies that all knowledge is already there. You didn’t put it there; Somebody Else did. Your job is not to indoctrinate or to form your students, but to reveal to them that which they already know, that which they were born knowing. They do not arrive in your classroom as blank sheets of paper that you write on. They arrive in the divine image of an omniscient God. Behave accordingly.
5. There is no such thing as cognitive “skills.” (In education, there are no cognitive “skills.” The term is related to training, not to education; it is not synonymous with “intellectual abilities” and may not be used interchangeably.) Further, in education, because we show the student what he already knows, the term “cognition” is not wholly accurate. What happens is more accurately termed “recognition,” which accounts for those “eureka moments”; i.e., discoveries. (You can only discover something that already exists.) Skills—by contrast—do not pre-exist in the student. Example: sounding out symbols phonetically is a skill that can be taught, but learning the pre-existing meaning of words is discovery.
6. Because all meaning is already present in the student, your job is to help him to discover it, and to recognize it in the written symbols of math and science, words and meaning. Put another way: skills are acquired or “gained”; they require constant practice. Information also can be acquired; it requires constant updating. Education is not a skill, nor is it information. You don’t lose it by not “practicing” it; nor does it require “updating” as mere information does. Instead, education educes the intellectual ability to discover, the habit of it, and sometimes, even the love of it.
But that’s enough. It doesn’t help to get all worked up about these things….