I don’t know why a day of hauling around shelving for the book sale jogged my brain into action today, but I’ve been pondering a few of my most deeply held beliefs about education.
First of all, I believe that education is deeply personal, and can’t be imposed. Education encompasses everything that a person is passionate about, or is curious about. Education has no curriculum other than the boundaries of one’s own curiosity. If a child lacks a desire to learn, doesn’t believe he or she can learn or doesn’t understand the value of learning, no amount of schooling will truly educate him or her.
I believe that the mind is a muscle, and that intelligence is not fixed. Believing that effort matters is the difference between defeatism and success. Mastering anything takes thousands of hours of work. I wish we stressed that rather than innate talent (which is great and should be nurtured, but is not the end all and be all of success), perseverance is key to advancement. Things that are now hard will eventually be second nature, and will form the scaffolding of a new level of challenge.
What is that challenge? Why is education worthwhile? I think that we sell students short by telling them that it’s so they can get a job, or complete a certain task. Education is nothing less than advancing the frontiers of human knowledge. Kids in school and even undergraduate work are still gathering background information and developing their skills, but it is all ultimately so that they can ask and answer questions which have never been answered before.
When we look at the big picture, we can address the frustrations of our students: all information is potentially relevant (“Why do we have to learn this?”), academic integrity is critical (“Why do I have to cite this?”), everyone regardless of ability level has something to contribute (“I’m not good at school”). In this context, education begins to make sense. More sense, anyway, than standing up in front of students and lecturing on the answers, without acknowledging that even adults are just swimming in questions. Taken in the context of the bigger picture, we can go beyond self-congratulating academic gymnastics to the real point: the creation of knowledge.
I’m biased, but I think the librarian has a huge role to play in encouraging students to ask questions, follow their curiosities, seek answers and begin creating knowledge.