Education bugs me. There’s something fundamentally wrong with the whole process, from examination to lesson style. No doubt it’s been explored in many a way, many a time before, and I suppose this warrants a ton of extra research on my behalf. But for now, I just want to get a few things off my chest and onto paper.
Are there many things more lamentable, stressful in life than being put under unnecessary amounts of pressure, and required to spew every last bit of data-like info your brain can muster from its short-term memory? Believe you me, sitting here knowing I got 100% in my C2 AS-Level Mathematics exam, and yet knowing very little (off the top of my head) about things as simple as integration or differentiation, proves this point spectacularly. However, out of all the subjects, Mathematics may be about the only one that’s on the right lines of being at all correct. So much of human life and civilisation (and work, as I’m now finding) is based upon the countless formulae, stats, and logical assessments associated with the Mathematics I’d learnt throughout my schooling years.
My issue is more with the general process, however. Whereby examinations amount to little more than the mass-recall of data, in place of disciplined understanding. I like to think of languages as an example here, something I never did very well at. You can learn all the words, and the order they should go in, constructing sentences in French, German, Spanish or Latin, on-the-fly, perhaps even semi-seamlessly (if not completely inefficiently), but to my mind, this does little to demonstrate a proficiency in knowing that language. You can reproduce, given prompts. Or construct, where creation is implied. But the thing that stuck with me is when my exasperated Spanish teacher turned to me, throwing his hands as close as he dared without inducing a court-case for man-handling, and in that rolling weave of a Spanish accent he said: “You just don’t get it, do you?!” His eyes wide and accusing, “You’ve got to think Spanish!”
How many times did I sit, head in hands, clawing at my temples under exam conditions, desperately seeking out that nugget of info, a quote, a reaction colour, a formula, thinking alone in “self”? In English. In me. And not in the language of that discipline.
Straying from the point a bit there. That being: data reproduction is not understanding. To truly know a subject is not to know the specifics, for these are things you can work out later, given the correct foundations. It’s about comprehending the basis and application of everything you’re taking on.
Think of your brain as a ceiling, lined with ropes, criss-crossing over and under, wall to wall, some hanging low, some high, some shorter, some longer..some stronger, some weaker. For every new type of knowledge, I can attach further ropes, linking them to the framework of my brain. If I linked them all to one area, it’s going to become overcrowded, and over-strained, more likely to let something drop. But imagine those different areas of that ceiling are different areas of the brain, all responsible for different types of learning. If everything we learn is based on data reproduction, then it’s more likely to drop. Apply it, and we’re linking ropes to more areas, spreading the weight of our learning, and creating links between different areas of our brains so we may better recall the meaning and purpose of what is being taught.
Not everyone’s brain is the same, so the education system should allow for different types of learning. But, furthermore, it should not then assume a standardised grading system across these different types of learning. For some students, this data reproduction method is a god-send, and they are genii in this modern and technology-driven world. But their smart may indeed be comparable with the unsung genius, who specialises instead in lateral thinking, perhaps not so sharp when it comes to the straight and narrow. Comparable, yes. The same? Not on you nelly. Imagine a classification for school not dissimilar to that of university, maybe even US Colleges. Majoring and Minoring in any given discipline. But I praise alone the idea of categorising the education, not the education itself.
Recap: Understanding is not Data Reproduction. Types of intelligence should be recognised, examined appropriately, and categorised.
What we should achieve
I was lucky enough to attend a school with fantastic facilities, and it pushed me hard to get the grades I did. But I wasn’t always an achiever. Before I started at my final Senior School, I was the top gun of some average state school, in top set for everything from Science to English to Mathematics. I left after year 7 due to my Dad relocating for work, and found myself in this new school…bottom for everything. I kid you not. I hate being bottom.
I’d like to say I worked my arse off, did all my homework, proper little Rocky-montage..but I didn’t. But all the same, I absorbed it. Said what I needed to say. Retained what I needed to retain. But only for about as long as I needed to. I played the game, in a off-hand, blah-say, devil-may-care, minimalistic fashion..but I played it nonetheless. And for all intents and purposes, I feel like I emerged victorious. But did I really learn, or did I just work the system? Before my final Mathematics exams, all I did was plough through dozens of past papers, only a couple of days before the exam itself. That’s revision for you. Cramming in as much data as you can, using all sorts of tricks to help you remember all that easily-forgettable jargon, then writing as fast as humanly possible when you enter the exam hall, before the dam springs its inevitable leak.
OK, straying again. The point is, I was lucky. Not just for the school, nor alone for the capacity to hold vast amounts of info for a very small amount of time, but for the fact that I simply didn’t care as much as others did. They stress, they sob, they go white in the face, they have nightmares, they drink, they smoke, they give up altogether, they devote their lives to witchcraft…they go off the bloody rails. They just can’t handle the stress. The pressure. The overwhelming sense of obligatory high-achievement.
Now, this is the point. Why should we all achieve the top grades? Or indeed, even be expected to? You hear this all the time in physical activity: do the best you can. Put in 100%. Push through the pain, but know that you did your best. And there are some parents and teachers that adopt and preach this Philosophy..but reside in an educational system where this is not actually adhered to. We’re all told to achieve “A”s, and made to feel inferior if we do not, even when we’ve done our damned hardest to do better. This is not the point of exams.
Surely, instead, the point of exams is to assess your competence level? Not to fabricate it in the final push of effort that springs out of a oh-so-temporary abundance of effort.
What’s worse is this constant lie we’re all told: that we’re all the same. We’re not. That’s point 1. Some people are more academic, some are more logical, some are more athletic. Yes, we all have a limit, a potential just waiting to be reached in any one of these disciplines, but those limits aren’t the same. We’re not all destined to be lawyers, doctors, footballers, entrepreneurs. Some of us are better suited to driving cabs, manual labour, project managing, sales, sweeping streets, or setting up sound equipment for the so-called professionals. We’re not the same. And nor do we need to be. Nor should be strive to be.
The pride instilled in us, these delusions of grandeur that plague our early years, feeds are ego to the point of gross obesity. And it’s little wonder why we’ve generations of depressed, apathetic, impatiently and fleetingly ambitious, aimless, work-shy, free-loaders. Been there, done that, got the elasticated pants for my fat-arsed delusion of self-importance. And of course, I blame something other than myself. It’s easier that way to believe myself free of responsibility. Free from having to do anything about it..
Even writing this is a part of that. Tell ya what, I said to myself, I’ll type it all out, in no particular order or essay-like fashion. I’ll just go for it, and see what becomes of my ramblings. And ramble I will.
Recap: We’re not the same. If we were, there’d be no need for examination. Examination is there to assess our competencies, and should be conducted appropriately in order to highlight our every strength and weakness. There is no shame in failings where successes follow.
Some other thoughts
It’s no wonder we create a society of layabouts when we force them to sit for hours on end, day in, day out, for all their schooling years. Step 1? Make them stand.
Respect is gained, earned, built, and never demanded. The teacher, the subject, the deadlines, the goal, none of these will be focused upon, worked towards, listened to, without respect. And as such, the student will never prosper from the learnings of their peers. Step 2? Understanding, not Data Reproduction. Let them know why this is applicable. Show them how. And let them decide then whether or not it’s worth retaining, learning, understanding.
The world won’t sustain itself on tertiary business. Step 3? Stop mass-producing an entire world of single-minded, data-specialist, office workers. You need a range of different components to make a machine, why treat society any different.
Step 4? Rewrite this after vast amounts of research into possible resolutions has been conducted. See you when I retire.