This I Believe

Kira - Smithsburg, Maryland
Entered on May 1, 2007

I believe that education is an end in itself.

In this age of endless goal setting, success measuring, progress reporting, failure labeling, and testing, and testing, and testing, I still believe that learning is fun. I believe that we can allow ourselves and our children to enjoy learning without jeopardizing the future of civilization. Indeed, I believe that the future of civilization depends on humankind’s enjoyment of learning, much as its past is indebted to the same.

The difference between learning in order to meet a goal and learning for pleasure is the difference between walking to your car and strolling on the beach. Walking to your car, you take the shortest path, the point of the walk being to get someplace where you can stop walking. Strolling on the beach, you stop to look at interesting shells. You dip your feet in the surf, maybe accidentally get your pants wet. Your walk will end eventually, but you are in no hurry. When it does end, you look forward to the next one.

I believe that when we teach children that the purpose of learning is to meet certain goals, we cripple them. And for what? So that we might more easily quantify the quality of our schools? Do we truly think that the vast quantities of data we gather tell us anything we don’t already know, let alone justify the damage done to the innate love of learning that five-year-olds bring with them to Kindergarten? By the time those five-year-olds show up in my college classes, they believe the lie they have been taught: that learning should accomplish something. They are no longer interested in learning for its own sake, and it is very, very hard, sometimes impossible, to revive their interest. Oh, it’s not that they’re not interested in their classes. They may be avid students. But rarely are they interested without a goal in mind: an A in the course, a 4.0 GPA, graduate school, a job, and on and on. Ask a college student to do research on something just because it’s interesting – no credit, no remuneration – and you’ll see what I mean.

But I believe that it doesn’t have to be that way. I believe that people are naturally curious and that it is possible to run our schools in a way that cultivates, rather than squelches, that curiosity. I believe that we as a people are smart and creative enough to figure out a way to do this without leaving anyone behind. And I believe that the sooner we turn our attention to that task, the sooner we will see true improvement in education in our country.