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.

 

FOR PARENTS:

 

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.

 

FOR TEACHERS:

 

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….

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  • September 29 2012 | by Manny

    I have a three year old boy and will need to make a decision in a year or two on public or Catholic school. The public schools are not bad where i live but I cannot support some of the social values they are teaching. It would be a no brainer to send him to Catholic school, but my wife is not Catholic and she's somewhat uncomfortable with it. But she has not said no, so we'll see.

    You make excellent points. May I ask how does "one instill a child with a desire to learn"? I'm not being sarcastic. I'd really like to know.
  • October 1 2012 | by Dena Hunt

    Manny,
    A great many of the students in Catholic schools are not Catholic, but your wife's reluctance to send her child to a Catholic school seems troublesome for other reasons--will your child not be reared in the Church? That would be more troublesome to me than his education.
    Desire to learn: Curiosity in youngsters is almost cliche (Why is the grass green? Etc.) Most parents find children's questions annoying. That kills curosity. Having killed their child's curiosity, they are surprised later to find that he has none.
  • October 1 2012 | by Kevin O'Brien

    Dena, I admire your passion here - and by passion I mean "suffering" as well as emotional intensity.

    I told our friend Joseph Pearce this over the weekend, and I mean it. He is the most educated man I know - precisely because he never went to college.

    But one can learn anywhere, even in college; and one can find God anywhere, even in church! And I have never known a teacher - however good or bad of a teacher - who did not want the best for his or her students and who did not apprecaite a true commitment to learning. So the good somehow prevails, despite all the problems.

    Thank you and all the other unsung heroes out there who work so hard for students.

    And please pray for me, as I take up again my old career as a tutor. Much good can come from learning, for Wisdom is the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit.
  • October 1 2012 | by Manny

    Yes, I'm aware that many children in Catholic schools are not Catholic. Actually we have agreed to raise him Catholic. He's been baptized and I've taken him to mass, and I'll take him regularly when he gets a bit older. My wife doesn't have a problem with any of that. She is jewish and the cultural gulf is large. It's not so much the religion but that she will feel alienated. Plus she has her family to consider as well. We all understand, but it's kind of touchy if it's all in their face. Bottom line, it's difficult in a mixed marriage. That said, I don't think she's absolutely ruled out Catholic school. She's got qualms with the public school system too.

    Yes, my son appears to be very curious and intelligent. I will say he's driving me nuts with his questions...lol. But hopefully I'm nurturing his curiosity.
  • October 2 2012 | by Dena Hunt

    Dear Manny,

    Ah--a mixed marriage. Well, if a mixed marriage ever works, it works between a Catholic and Jew--MUCH better than between a Catholic and a Protestant. (There are logical reasons for that, but they'd require much more space than we have here.)

    Let it be enough to say that I think your child has a wonderful opportunity, being raised as a Catholic, to understand better than any other Christian denomination, the solid Jewish roots of his faith.

    There are several good books about this, and especially now that you have a child, both you and your wife should look into them. (Unlike a Protestant, your child's faith is around 5 or 6,000 years old. He should know about it--in its fullness. If he were a Protestant, all these reference points would have been erased.)

    p.s. I know he's driving you nuts with his questions. It doesn't matter so much whether you can answer them as long as you don't discourage them! ("I don't know" is legitimate; irritated dismissal or anything that says, "stop asking me dumb questions" is NOT.)
  • October 2 2012 | by Dena Hunt

    Dear Kevin,

    I think you flatter me a bit with the word "passion" and I know you flatter me with the word "suffering." I'm no zealous education-missionary. I did what I had to do as best as I could. (Maybe we can call frustration a form of "suffering"?)

    But I have to say also that if you've "...never known a teacher - however good or bad of a teacher - who did not want the best for his or her students and who did not appreciate a true commitment to learning.", then you've lived in a fairer land than I have in public schools. Sometimes they do, yes--when they're given that luxury--but mostly they're just trying to (a) get through the day, and (b) hang onto their jobs. Like everybody else. For some reason, people still expect and demand altruism of teachers--even more than they do of their priests--and many, I think, find comfort in the propaganda, especially since there's often precious little comfort elsewhere.

    Good luck with tutoring! The BEST way of all to learn anything is to teach it. Seriously!