A constant ongoing battle in the education system is whether or not we should teach practical information or we should teach theory? Should we teach student how to perform certain tasks or should we teach them why we perform certain tasks.
Is it the job of the educator to provide members of society that can perform ‘hands on’ tasks or do we provide future academicians? The answer is that we, the educators do not produce this at all. It is the job of the student to decide his path through education. It is the job of the parent and educator to provide a learning environment for which the student to grow, but it is the job of the student to follow a certain learning path.
Locke was correct in stating that all children are a black slate for which we are to write on. However, even more importantly, a mind is a blank slate for which the student is to write on. If we teach the Socratic Method to students at an early age, the student will question his everyday observations. The student will learn to look at the sky, question why the sky is blue, how clouds form, why the sun is bright and what the atmosphere is made of.
In this day and age, the information for research is at every ones hands. If we teach the Socratic meathod at an early age, then the path to self education is paved. An educator can provide students all the material needed to succeed, but if a student researchers and educates himself then his education will not end with his schooling. Socrates taught us the importance of self education in his questioning attitude. Every person is an encyclopedia of knowledge, it is our duty to tap in this encyclopedia and learn as much as we can.
It is the responsibility of the student to decide if he is more interested in learning theory or practical knowledge, not that of the educator. Every person is different and every student has different strengths. Some students are more able of retaining hands on knowledge while others are more able of retaining book knowledge.
It would be pompous of an educator to believe that he has a better understanding of the student’s ability than that of the student. Society needs a mixture of skills; we need masons and mechanics as much as we need artists and authors. It is our job as educators just to provide material to the students that are interested and to provide a path for the students to learn from.
We run into problems when we teach too much practical knowledge. For instance, inner cities schools usually place high importance on practical knowledge that the local community needs. According to Jonathon Kozal in his book Savage Inequalities, he describes situations in East Saint Luis where the high school teaches girls how to be hairdressers and nail beauticians since there are many salons in the area.
He states that these schools do not place the proper weighting on the required academic classes since this is not what the local community needs. This is cheating the students. Their practical knowledge does not provide them with a well-rounded liberal education. The student might not even understand the importance of a liberal education. These students might not be able to see outside of their city boundaries.
This is the job of the educator. It is not to force-feed the student, but it is to expose the student to new information. It is to provide them with questions for them to answer. The practical knowledge situation I spoke of in East Saint Louis is not uncommon. However, the local community may see nothing wrong with this since these women, when they graduate will contribute back to their community.
However, it is not uncommon for these future graduates to travel outside their community, especially if they have a decent education. We need to understand as members of the community, that the education we provide does not just benefit our community, but the world. An inner city kid might go on to become an international lawyer, or a biochemist. The world is turning into a small place.
Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin describe how a democracy needs educated people to function properly. This is true at every level of society and government. If people are taught the Socratic Method they will question what they are exposed to. The will not take the information they see for granted and they will develop their own opinions through research. Once again, this is self-education.
Life is full of learning experiences and the educator will not always be present. That is why it is so important to teach the Socratic Method. People that are educated in practical education or people educated in theoretical education contribute to government in the same way, both vote and both form their own opinions. Due to this reason, all people need to be educated and be able to form educated opinions.
So how exactly are we to educate our children and our students? All of these leaders in education have presented very important tools to us to use. There are some aspects from these philosophers that I do not agree with; however, their tools for education are indispensable. We educators need to use all the tools that we are presented with to properly educate the children.
No one person is solely correct in their approach to education. For instance a if an educator only pursued Jonathon Edwards approach to education, then the student could develop a sense of worthlessness if he can never escape the ‘dark closet’ of ignorance. If an educator only followed Rousseau’s education philosophy, then females will never be able to teach their children due to their lack of being educated.
Moreover, Edwards and Rousseau do present some very valuable lessons on education to us. Edwards believed that education is the means of salvation. Rousseau believed that nature is the best avenue to expose children to education. Both of these beliefs are true.
“Rousseau had proposed that nature was the best agent to draw on a child’s blank slate, providing the child with practical, empowering experiences; Pestalozzi had emphasized the training of the sensory organs; and Herbart had highly valued the assimilation of knowledge. For Froebel, the importance of experience lay in self-expression” (LTD, Pg 53).
We learned from Froebel that the importance of early learning experiences can not be over-emphasized. We need to instill a questioning attitude into children at an early age with good research and learning habits. It is the learning habits that will benefit people throughout their lives. Children need to be exposed to nature early in life in order to develop a questioning attitude. Children are interested in nature and nature is all around us. What better to develop good study habits than to be a student of the world? We need an understanding of the world around us and this is the perfect foundation which all education should start.
I have learned throughout my education (which is manly self-taught) is that the more I research, the more questions I develop. Research is never ending. A student that is research animal mating practices quickly finds himself researching the reproduction cycle, which in turn leads to DNA research and evolution then on to genetics. Learning is never ending. A person that develops a questioning attitude and good study habits never ends his education. There are no stupid people, only people with poor study habits.
As for the separation of religion and education; there is no separation. We do not teach religion in the public schools and our government strictly forbids it. I have a coworker that was educated in Germany where at the forth grade he had to decide whether to be educated as a Catholic or a Protestant. But what
I was saying about there actually is no separation between school and religion is just what Emerson taught us about the spirituality of education and nature.
“He (Emerson) taught that the spirit of nature exists within each human being, and that our primary educational responsibility is to be aware of this spirit and liberate it.” (LTD, pg 65). Just what did Emerson mean by this? He meant that only through our education can we really feel free to make our own educated decision about our religion and spirituality.
Students do not need to be educated in religion to know what they believe in. the majority of people form their own decisions on religion as they become more educated. It is not the colleges that corrupt the minds of our youth. The majority of colleges do not even offer religion classes.
It is the questioning attitude that people develop as they become more educated that makes them question the beliefs of the youth and their parents. This is what Emerson was talking about. As we develop a better understanding of our universe and world, we question the superstitions of the past. We develop a better understanding of the world and then we can make an educated choice on our beliefs.
Why study Theory?
Our jobs as educators are not to decide what the student should learn. Our job is to present material to the student that he might not have been aware of unless presented. A student might never have learned about Russian history, geometry or William Shakespeare unless the educator presented the material to him. Not every student will want to learn this material or even be able to see a practical application of material like this in life, but the student is wrong.
All material has some practical application. A person reads poetry to become a better reader, a person learns geometry to become a better builder, and a person learns Russian history to understand Russian influence on American history. Behind every practical job, whether it is auto mechanics, carpentry or landscaping; is a liberal arts background. We need to stress the importance of a strong liberal arts background to our students so they can fully understand the importance.
As a naval instructor when I would introduce a new topic, I had to produce a practical story on why this topic is relevant to the student’s success. If I did not have a ‘sea story’ I had to make one up. I had to produce a story about when I needed the following information in able to safely return to port and since I had this sacred knowledge I single handedly was able to destroy communism. This is a little far fetched, but it became fun and it told the student the importance of the lecture. This is what we need to do as high school educators and college educators.
Many times in my high school classes the teachers would never say why earth science was important. I would get the answer ‘because it is important’. Inform the student the reason why he needs to know this information. Inform his that he might be a civil engineer, an EPA specialist, a meteorologist. He might need to know earth science when he owns a boat, has to read a map on a vacation and so forth. Teenager can not see past tomorrow and the weekend parties. We need to extend their vision.
However, we can not force someone to learn something. We can not jam theory into the head of a student that doesn’t want to learn. This is why there are so many technical schools. Many college students don’t want to learn about history or English and just want to learn what they think is important like computer programming. How misinformed these students are. They do not see what a college degree really means. It does not mean mastery of certain subjects; it means discipline and learning ability. It displays the ability to accomplish something without taking the easy way out. That is what technical students are doing; they are cheating themselves by going straight to a technical school. They are cheating themselves of displaying lack of discipline.
I believe that my statement; ‘behind every practical application lies a liberal arts background’ should have actually have stated; ‘behind every practical application lies a theoretical background.’ For how does a practical application originate? Does the mason just start stacking rocks hoping they don’t fall over? Does the auto mechanic start replacing parts hoping they will work? Does the builder randomly start putting boards up? Of course these craftsmen do not work this way, this would lead to failure. At some point in their career they learned their trade from someone who had a theoretical knowledge required to perform the tasks.
The craftsmen themselves might have obtained this theoretical knowledge. The builder might have learned from the architect, the mason might have learned from his father or mentor, and the auto mechanic might have learned from his foreman. But somewhere in these men’s careers reading skills were required, speaking skills and math skills were required. Basic theoretical skills were and are required to perform their jobs. Even the landscaper needs to understand horticulture. The ditch digger needs to understand earth science. Everyone needs a theoretical background. It for us educators to explain this to our students.
Knowledge requires discipline, without discipline knowledge that is attained is dangerous. Specialists that attain knowledge and use it in practical applications sometimes do not respect the importance and the hard work that came to be in attaining that knowledge. For instance a research company that steals another firms patent on a pharmaceutical product has not performed the necessary safety programs on that product and might release it to the public untested. They do not respect the product or respect the public since their knowledge is cheaply attained.
So just how do we educated our young and our students? We have to start our students very young in developing a questioning attitude. They need to be rapidly exposed to the world around them, and they need to have good learning habits instilled, with a questioning attitude. Nature is the best resource to start the students in learning and then the child will grow into other areas of education. The world is all around us and it is the perfect foundation for a questioning mind to be exposed to. As the student grows academically, then he can be exposed to material that he might not have found on his own. The student can learn history, astronomy, and other topics. The educator needs to guide the student in the proper direction and explain the importance of such topics when the student starts to lose interest.
I believe the job of the educator is more of the job of a mentor. That is what Socrates and Plato saw. They were mentors to their students. They guided them through difficult situations. They were present throughout their lives to help them interpret things. They were there for the student’s protection. We are too cheaply mass producing students to have this type of connection that Socrates and Plato had. This is where the education of the parents comes in.
Parents and siblings need to be educated and be active in their children’s education. Rousseau and Wollstonecraft were very adamant about educating at home. I do not agree with home schooling unless the parents are very educated and the state has some way of monitoring. However, home schooling should occur in conjunction with formal in house school education. There is so much to learn and the school house can not and does not teach everything that is needed. An educated house hold sees this and will sublimate their children’s education.
I have two nine year olds and I give them a ‘look up’ every night. Sometimes I give them more as a punishment. One of the major problems I see with junior personal entering the Navy is lack of study habits, low attention span, and inability to do research. I know this is what the older generations have been saying since the Egyptians, but I want to contribute to this historical complaint. So I make my children find some information for me every night. It is always well above their current education level, for instance they had to find out what an igneous rock was, who Eva Braun was, where is St. Petersburg. This is not done for them to retain data, but to develop a learning environment and good research habits. Since I started this (when I started T&L 450 with you), my children will now research their own questions! What more can a parent ask for?
Our jobs as educators are never ending. We are to be mentors, parents, guidance counselors and teachers. The most important aspect of our job is to instill good self-learning habits early in our child’s development. We need to insure the student fully understands every possible outcome of decision that they make. If the student doesn’t want to learn theory, then he needs to be aware of the implications. We need to endure that the student fully applies himself through out life in order to help society and man kind. Because a student that fully applies himself will then ensure that his children will do the same and the circle will not go unbroken.