Education and Schooling #1: What’s the Intersection?

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31 January 2013 by thaliakr

Ta-da! Welcome to our new series on education and schooling, covering pretty much anything you’re interested in (so keep the suggestions coming).

Here’s my big question. Education is awesome, but does schooling have anything to do with it?

Do you remember third form maths and all the time you spent on set theory? It was the first taste for most of us of maths that had absolutely no obvious application to the world, and I haven’t met anyone whose maths teachers made clear why they were spending three terms on it (I’m not saying it shouldn’t be taught, just that I don’t know specifically why it is). But Venn diagrams are the redemption of that whole curriculum mystery.

Venn diagram for the set theoretic intersectio...

Venn diagram for the set theoretic intersection of A and B. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have set A: education. This set contains the learning of skills and knowledge in order to be a good citizen (however you define that) and a content person (ditto). I’m all in favour of educating SBJ! He should indeed learn and explore things his whole life long and enjoy doing so. Hurrah for education!

Then we have set B: schooling. This set contains going to a classroom for 6 hours a day for 12 years, with a group of children roughly the same age, with a large range of abilities and interests. This set includes lunchtime with games, packed lunches and socialising. This set includes one teacher to every 15-30 kids.

My main question is about the intersection, the overlap, between these two sets. Are education and schooling the same thing or distinct? Is there a bunch of education stuff, things that he’ll need to learn to be happy and productive, that isn’t found in Set B? How will we include it in his life if he goes to school? Is there a bunch of stuff in Set B that isn’t education and which we may or may not value for SBJ? If so what do we do about that?

You may have seen this animated talk from Sir Ken Robinson, which nicely sets up many of my questions (and let’s be clear, scepticism) about the value and effectiveness of institutional schooling.

What do you think?

There’s much more to say, and to hear from you, so I won’t leave any more direct questions today. In the comments, please feel free to suggest questions or themes or guests for this series, and to discuss anything you like about education and schooling, knowing that we’ll be covering the territory bit by bit over the coming months.

I’d also like to say at the start that while I’ve got lots of questions challenging the current practice of institutional schooling, I have a great deal of respect for people working in schools. Some of my best friends (and guest bloggers!) are teachers, as they say. And my Mum! I also know that many of you will have had wonderful experiences at school, and many of your children are being well served by their schools.

My son is almost 14 months old, so obviously we’re years away from needing to make any decisions, and we haven’t done so. I genuinely have no idea what SBJ’s education will look like, so this series is partly for me to untangle some of my thoughts and hear from different people, including several experts and practitioners. There will be many more questions than answers, I expect. I’m looking forward to it.

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11 thoughts on “Education and Schooling #1: What’s the Intersection?

  1. Alex says:

    Gosh, this is a biggie. Some quick thoughts (that have now taken me an age to write!):
    Definitely with you on the idea that education and schooling overlap, but are distinct. I don’t have any definitive answers – who does?! – but I am quite sure that education (in its broadest sense) has to be about more than what goes on at school. Thankfully, although it takes up a lot of time, school doesn’t take up *all* the time. There are weekends and school holidays and the rest of family/community life that can be used to ‘teach’ (even if not overtly) a child about all sorts of things. Equally, I am pretty sure that schooling is not just about education. There are some definite negatives to that (the potential for bullying and exposure to undesirable peer pressure being the ones that spring immediately to mind, and that do at times keep me awake at night) but also plenty of positives – the main one for my money being the exposure to a multitude of voices and ideas.
    Just over half a year away from M starting school I am a little nervous about losing what control I currently have over the ideas etc he is exposed to, but I am also excited about it. I had some inspirational teachers (as well as some frankly lousy ones) and I am looking forward to seeing him learn all sorts of things I can’t even imagine yet.
    I do have a lot of respect for anyone brave enough to go down the home-schooling route, but I (currently) don’t feel my range of knowledge and experience is broad enough to meet his needs, nor that I could be that many people to my son (or daughter, when her turn comes) – it seems to me, frankly, that the role of “parent” covers enough ground as it is. I have already seen M benefit from his time at nursery and now at pre-school, and I’m hopeful that his experiences of institutional education will continue to be largely positive… I’ll let you know! ;-)

    • Thanks heaps for this, Alex.

      I’d love to hear more about your experience of M benefitting (two ts like fitting or one like marketing??) from nursery and pre-school when you have some time.

      • Alex says:

        (No idea about the number of ts… Think I’d make the same decision you did if pushed!)
        I should preface this by saying that obviously it’s impossible to know how much of what I’m about to say is down to nursery and pre-school, how much of it would have happened anyway (and of course there are other means of achieving the same ends), and whether he would have benefitted even more from not attending either – no controlled experiments in parenting!
        But, for what it’s worth, and this is very much top-of-my-head stuff, I would say that he has gained from the variety – of activities, toys, and playmates. In terms of adult interaction, he was lucky to have the same ‘key-worker’ for most of his two years at nursery, which helped provide stability and security, but he was quite a sociable baby and happy to go to any of the carers who worked there. Toys and activities were probably more what I was thinking of – for example, as I’ve confessed before, I’m not a natural “messy-player”, and I was pleased that nursery were able to provide that part of his early experience. (Painting and water play must be more enjoyable for a child when the adult(s) providing the opportunity are relaxed about it.) He got to try out lots of different toys that it would never have occured to us to buy for the home – dolls, sea creatures, massive building bricks etc. If I’m honest, with nursery at least there was a large sense of relief on my part that I was sending him to be looked after by people who had actually been trained to look after children for part of the week. I was not a very confident new parent, and being able to learn from them helped me a lot (although I appreciate that’s more about my benefit than his!) As a knock-on effect of that, I took my lead from them in turns of when to introduce talking about numbers, colours, shapes etc, and it was comforting to know that I was doing that in tandem with people who knew what they were doing.
        In terms of pre-school, which is more geared towards education and preparing children for school, rather than “just” providing childcare, I think most of what he’s gained has been the social aspect. Learning to get along in a group of children, who all have different needs and interests, is a valuable skill. Learning to listen and not always be the centre of attention. Learning to share. But equally, having the opportunity of a larger audience than just me, being encouraged to act and sing and discuss his experiences and share his opinions with a wider circle is doing him good, I think. And again there is the opportunity for mutual reinforcement – his pre-school teachers tell me what he’s been up to and what his current interests are there (like his phase of being obsessed with categorising animals as nocturnal or diurnal) so we can carry on talking about them at home if he wants to, and likewise I let them know what we’ve been up to at home and they sometimes pick out activities and toys that will help him consolidate those interests there. It’s good to have someone else (particularly when it’s somebody trained!) thinking up ways of occupying and entertaining him, and firing his enthusiasm. I’d be exhausted if it was just up to me!
        Having written all of that, I’m now wondering whether I’ve been depriving his little sister by not having followed the same route and staying home with her… But then, I suppose, she has him to learn from, and I have more of a clue what I’m doing this time round! It’ll be interesting to see how she copes when she does start pre-school in September. He slotted straight in, because he understood how it worked from his time at nursery. I wonder whether she will find it as easy. Time will tell…

  2. Bekah says:

    I dont have a child in school and it was quite a while since I was in secondary school let alone primary. But I have thought about it a little and wonder if, quite apart from the curriculum, a major aspect of the learning that goes on in school is social and, as noted above, perhaps one of the most significant aspect of learning that occures is the development of an appreciation that that others are different: not eveyone shares my or my family’s world view.

    I remember quite distinctly the shock of my teacher telling my third form history class that human evolution was the next topic of the course. I was quite black and white about things such things at that time and was horrified with the idea of being taught something “against my religion”. I asked my Mum to write a letter to get me out of the class, but, in her wisdom and faith, my dear mother refused. I am so glad she did. Instead she said she would get some other books for us to read at home so I could think about it and make up my own mind.

    Looking back I realise this experience was probably quite life-shaping and in a good way. It was the first time I distinctly remember dealing with questions of what it meant to be counter-cultural, and the first time I had to overtly apply any sort of ‘crittical perspective’ to what I was being taught. It was also a major lesson for me in facing my fears, doing somethign that was hard and actually, in a way, strengthened my faith. Through this, and other experiences during my secondary schooling, I realised that my faith did not have to cower in the face of ‘history’ or indeed science, nor did it have to retreat into a corner of corporate irrelvance marked ‘my personal spirituality’.

  3. Bekah says:

    just watched the video. SCARY STUFF, but I’m not sure I can disagree?!

  4. I’m a teacher, but our kids are home-schooled. Many of my colleagues have questioned our choices and some still do.
    Generally the reasons against home-schooling are to do with socialisation and effectiveness of learning. I don’t see either of these as relevant for my kids.

    As a teacher of both workshop/vocational courses and classroom lessons I have found that learning and education are often different things. Put simply, you can educate anyone (that is, you can tell them stuff and they can rote learn things) but you can’t force anyone to learn.

    I never enjoyed social studies or chemistry at school but I was able to rote learn my way through those courses. Very little of what I was taught has stayed with me from those classes. Maths, Graphics and science are a different matter entirely. I have vivid recall of many topics from those classes and have been able to build on them due to my own interest.

    I guess what I am long windedly trying to say is this: For some schooling is a punishment to be endured, yet anyone can be educated in anything that they find enjoyable or stimulating.
    Without the shackles of time constraints whereby our day isn’t split into 50 minute chunks, our own children are learning new stuff all day and can devote extra time to build learning or experience in something they truly enjoy. And with more time, even the annoying subjects (like chemistry) can be made fun.

    I’m all for blowing stuff up in the name in the name of science :)

  5. Rochelle says:

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while, cos I have some opinions, right? Totally prepared to admit that they are just my opinions and I preface all comments as such. And I want to make a few general comments to begin with:

    1) Many schools have changed a lot since I went to school. This is particularly true of the primary sector, which has embraced 21st Century learning in a way that secondary schools have struggled more with – mainly thanks to the need for standardised assessment. Compartmentalised subjects; parental expectation / lack of understanding around reporting and achievement / rigid school buildings / government funding formulas all come back to this issue.

    2) In an ideal world, of course we wouldn’t need schools. All adults would be kind, generous, well-educated and ever mindful of their children’s needs. And able to pay the bills while attending to their children’s learning needs. Sadly, that’s not the case and for some children, school can be a window into a world that they would never otherwise experience.

    School was not a wildly positive time for me; but not a total failure, either. (Fortunately, I went to a school whose attendance practices were slack enough for me to absent myself enough to survive…). How I ended up becoming a teacher is a bit of a mystery to me but it has given me a profound respect for the way that schools attempt to care for the students they are entrusted with. Of course they are not perfect. Of course not all teachers are great. But most are trying really hard.

    Having said that, I always feel a bit frustrated when I hear Ken Robinson’s stuff. In many ways, he is totally correct. But he’s speaking from *such* a point of privilege. He has the good fortune of an education and years in ‘the system’ that help prepare him to step outside this. His knowledge is broad and thoughtful and this is, at least in part, thanks to the years of formal education that have prepared him for what he now says.

    Back to Thalia’s question – yes, these things are different but some of the things you talk about are found under the heading ‘parenting’ as well (a subset?). My girls head off to care (preschool education) several days a week and I *so* value the input that other kind and generous adults have in their lives. I don’t always agree with everything they come home with and that’s part of the ‘unpacking’ we do and I imagine this will continue as they enter the formal education system. I’m aware that I won’t always like what happens and that there will be tough times for them but I’m confident that we can work through the business of both schooling and education together.

    Rant over ;)

    • Thanks heaps, Rochelle, for such a thoughtful and informed response.

      I found it particularly helpful that you point out the difference between our schooling and our kids’ – people in all kinds of institutions get very frustrated hearing their alumni trash them on out of date experience!

      And good point about the limits of Ken Robinson’s perspective. I gather he’s consulted with a few governments on systemic stuff that would presumably be more constructive than the critique alone?

      Lots more thoughts, but I’ll save some of them for full posts!

      Keep em coming :)

  6. […] of education and schooling (and unschooling!). If you want to catch up on the other posts, you can debate an animated critique of formal education, celebrate your favourite teachers, make use of a guest expert on primary school education, learn […]

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