Monday, July 4, 2016

What Does It Mean to be Educated?

"Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."
John Dewey

This is a question for which there are many opinions, shapred by cultural influences, personal experiences, historical thinking, and philosophical beliefs. It is a question that is worth pondering as it helps us as educators, parents, and learners to match our learning environments with what rings true for us. Recently, two experiences made me revisit this question - 'What does it mean to be educated?'.

First of all, our middle school program is in the candidacy phase of becoming an IB (International Baccalaureate) Middle Years Program as we pursue authorization as an IB World School for this age level.  One of the courses in IB Diploma program, offered at the high school level, is 'Theory of Knowledge'.  Reading the text for this course was my first exposure to an IB education and now that we are on this endeavor I am brought back to the question this course raises, 'What does it mean to be educated?' The second experience that has me revisiting this idea on this 4th of July holiday weekend, was stumbling upon an article I had saved from Forbes Magazine in 2011, titled by this question.  (Yes, I am cleaning out drawers and closets on my holiday!)  Below, I share this article but also some thoughts on the response to this question in a Montessori context, from my own cultural influences, personal experiences, and philosophical beliefs.  I hope to hear from you as to your definition of 'an education'.  After all, it's the conversation that helps us broaden, deepen, and reconsider our beliefs, and isn't that part of the process of the lifelong pursuit of becoming educated?

Timeless and thought-provoking reads:

A Traditional Goal of Education
To produce future workers and citizens in alignment with a culture's values through mastery of basic academic skills and memorization of facts and processes in the area of reading, writing, science, and mathematics, with general exposure to the arts.

By this traditional definition of the goal of education, to be educated means to be useful to society and well-prepared to meet that obligation, while being respectful of authority.  This education is delivered primarily through a teacher-centered environment.

A Montessori Goal of Education
To foster children's natural inclination to learn and aid in their development of self so that they can go out into the word a lifelong learner who uses their passion, knowledge, and skills to not only fulfill their own dreams but make the world a better place.   

By this definition, to be educated means to be able to acquire knowledge and apply it through critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and for the deeper purpose of advancing humanity and preserving the earth.  Learning is a continual and personal process dependent on self-motivation, initiative, an understanding of how one learns best, and a familiarity of the tools available for learning.   This education is delivered primarily through a student-centered environment.

Getting to ‘Educated’
Even if all educators, parents, and administrators could agree on what it means to be educated in terms of the content and skills one needs to know and the timing in which those lessons should be given, there is still the matter of how to deliver this education and account for individual learning differences.  Below are some of the more progressive, effective methods of encouraging learning, which Maria Montessori advocated for in her method and now are universally accepted.

Inquiry-based learning
student investigation where the teacher is a ‘guide on the side’ charged with setting up learning experiences as opposed to a ‘sage on the state’ so that students play an active and participatory role in their own learning process

Socratic dialogue
for developing critical thinking and communication skills as well deep understanding of content

Hands on manipulatives
for conceptual understanding of abstract concepts

Collaborative Learning
emphasizes group work and strong sense of a collaborative community

Real-world application
finds opportunities for students to apply their rudimentary knowledge and skills to contribute to real-world problem solving

Montessori schools use these methods across each developmental stage while incorporated innovative proven methods through modern day brain-based research.

Why is education becoming more progressive?
Although change is slow in coming in large, bureaucratic systems of education, most educational organizations acknowledge a need for change, and are striving to inject life into an outdated model. Educators know that research proves deeper learning occurs when there is freedom of movement, multiple learning experiences, an emphasis on critical and creative thinking, educators who are specialists in the developmental needs of the age they teach, a culture of civility and collaboration, and leaders of educational institutions who protect such learning environments against the fear-based demand for force-feeding education in a 'faster, harder, more competitive' race mentality.  

The more I read, learn, and witness, the more I am committed to a Montessori outlook to the question, "What does it mean to be educated?.  Maria Montessori was not only ahead of her time, she was timeless in her thinking.