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A discussion of excellence as a goal of every institution

To me, these are the real goals of education. I want students to learn to use the resources around them. I want them to read something or see something they are interested in and follow up on it. I want them to have an idea and then get on the phone and call people they can talk to about it, or pick up a book and read more about it, or sit down and write about it.

When I imagine one of my students as an adult, I imagine a person who is a thinker and a doer, and who follows his or her passions. I see an adult who is strong enough to stand up and speak for what he or she wants and believes, and who cares about himself or herself and the world.

Someone who understands himself or herself and understands learning. Creativity, passion, courage, and perseverance are the personal qualities I want to see in my graduates. I want them to come upon things they've seen every day and look at them in a whole new way. I want them to feel good about themselves and be good, honest people in the way they live their lives.

I believe that this is at the heart of what we mean when we talk about celebrating and respecting diversity, and it is at the heart of what makes a school and a society work. When a kid leaves my school, I want her to have the basic life skills that will help her get along in the adult world—like knowing how to act in a meeting or how to keep her life and work organized. Basic stuff that too many schools forget about in their rush to cram in three sciences, three social studies, four maths, and so on.

Chapter 1. The Real Goals of Education

But I also want her to be the kind of person who will keep building on what she got in my school, who will keep developing skills, keep learning, keep growing. Each of us, if we live to be just 70 years old, spends only 9 percent of our lives in school. Learners who learn without textbooks and tests, without certified teachers and standardized curricula.

Learners who love to learn. To me, this is the ultimate goal of education. Yeats said it this way: You know that neither of them were standardized tests.

What they were really saying, and what way too many school boards are now saying, is this: If it can't be measured easily, then we can't care about it, we can't teach it, and we certainly can't determine if a kid has learned it.

  • Not by being a charismatic lecturer, but by being a great coach, role model, motivator, advisor, and, yes, teacher;
  • Our main criteria for new teachers are that they love and are committed to kids, and that they themselves are lifelong learners;
  • Not by telling students what they have to read, but by letting them choose their own books, based on what they are interested in;
  • I worry about what they will interpret it to mean about teaching;
  • We have plenty of people who can teach what they know, but very few who can teach their own capacity to learn;
  • I remember in the 8th grade, my science teacher had us do these posters that he put up all around the school.

Take originality and initiative completely out of your educational goals and just teach to the test. It makes me scream. It's my hope that students in the classrooms of tomorrow will be encouraged to be creative, not conforming, and learn to cooperate rather than compete.

Tools and Resources

He died two years later, after a long battle with cancer. I remember in the 8th grade, my science teacher had us do these posters that he put up all around the school.

Though it wasn't exactly a test, it was a major project, and we all knew our grade depended on it. So there these posters were, hung all over the walls, and they were beautiful, and the teacher looked good to his boss and colleagues, and he probably felt pretty good about himself, too. I think this was the first time I realized how much of my education was total bull. I knew I hadn't learned anything about what was on those posters, including my own.

And the teacher just hung them up. We barely talked about the posters, we made no connection with them to anything else, and he never went any deeper with the learning than that final project. Never mind that none of us had learned very much about science, let alone about initiative or originality. Today, tests as meaningless as that test of poster making are determining the goals of education. Tests are dictating what we as a society hold valuable in our young people.

Our addiction to testing is blinding us to what we believe in our hearts are the important lessons our children should learn. If we worked backward, and thought first about the kind of adult we admire, we would not name characteristics that could be measured on a multiple-choice test. No single measurement or tool can get at what's really important in any area of learning. And the current push for one test that every kid has to pass in order to move to the next grade or graduate makes the whole situation a discussion of excellence as a goal of every institution sadder.

What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child. Too many forget how intrinsic motivation and desire are to learning. So much of our entire approach to education in the United States cheats kids out of the chance to become lifelong learners.

  • Years later, I was watching the U;
  • Learning is about learning how to think;
  • She herself was not very good at math;
  • And every kid is coming to you with his own personal baggage that may have to be worked through before he can even begin to learn what you are trying to teach him.

I want students to be able to find the information they need, to be able to go through the process of finding learning. And the key is that they are motivated to do it.

I care more that a student is excited to go deeper in her exploration of the history of women in her native country than I do about that student's ability to answer every question on a standardized U.

  • Our teachers are not simply givers of knowledge, but adults who inspire the students to find their own passions and their own ways of learning and who provide support along the way;
  • The problem comes in the way we learn;
  • So all these curricula have been developed around teaching moral character.

I care way more about helping kids learn to apply knowledge than I do about presenting them with knowledge and finding out if they have memorized enough of the facts to spit them back at me.

Most schools just give out the knowledge and then test it. They explain photosynthesis and then ask the kid to spit back photosynthesis. In between, no photosynthesis-like process happened inside that kid! He didn't take in that knowledge and then go to the library to find more books about photosynthesis, call a local greenhouse to go see how it works, or speak to a scientist who studies plants.

And he certainly didn't grow at all in between receiving the knowledge and being tested on it. He took it in and spit it right back out—the information and himself, unchanged. So What Is Learning? How do we know if our kids are becoming lifelong learners? If they are learning right now? I give a lot of speeches around the United States to people who walk into the room thinking they know what it means to be an educated person.

They're ready to learn from me about how to educate, but they feel pretty confident that they know what an educated person looks like. And then I show them that famous scene from the movie My Cousin Vinny. You know the one I'm talking about.

Marisa Tomei is on the stand proving to the jury that it couldn't possibly have been the defendants' car that left the tire tracks found at the scene. She spews out all kinds of facts and theories and historical knowledge about cars to demonstrate her case. She generalizes, she pulls things together, she teaches what she knows to the courtroom. It's an awesome scene. Regardless of who you are, if you can get up and be passionate about something and tell others about what you know, then you are showing that you are educated about that topic.

It is kids getting up and talking passionately about a book they've read, a paper they've written, drawings they've made, or even what they know about auto mechanics. It is a way for students to have conversations about the things they have learned. Exhibitions are the best way to measure learning because they put the kids right in the midst of their learning, which makes a lot more sense than asking them to sit quietly for an a discussion of excellence as a goal of every institution and fill in test bubbles with a pencil.

And because exhibitions are interactive, they propel the kids to want to learn more. That is what matters. I remember one time when I was taking a group of 8th graders on a trip to Washington, D. The conductor was really having fun talking with them and hearing about their plans for the trip.

  1. Not by getting students to write papers that meet a certain set of classroom, school, or state standards, but by working with them one-on-one to revise their papers until they feel good about what they've written and it meets their own standards.
  2. I want them to have an idea and then get on the phone and call people they can talk to about it, or pick up a book and read more about it, or sit down and write about it.
  3. Education is the process by which you put teachers and learners in the best possible environment for them to do this together. He died two years later, after a long battle with cancer.
  4. I believe that this is at the heart of what we mean when we talk about celebrating and respecting diversity, and it is at the heart of what makes a school and a society work.

The kids told him about the research they had done and the decisions they had made together. Then the train conductor told them he wanted to find out how smart they were. So he started quizzing them on state capitals. Another example that I use to show people what learning really is is a segment of a videotape on math and science learning called A Private Universe.

And then the interviewer asks them one of two questions: What's more, their wrong answers reveal the same misconceptions about these things that the answers of grade schoolers do. Then the interviewees are asked to list all the science classes they've taken over the years, either at Harvard or in high school.

Elliot Washor, my longtime friend and the cofounder of The Met and The Big Picture Company, points out that this says a lot about how too many schools view learning. He relates it to what we are doing at The Met and our Big Picture schools in this way: We say the use of knowledge is power. It happens one on one, it happens in small groups, it happens alone.

Sure, a conference, a speaker, a lecture is motivating—but the real learning happens after. It's what you do with it, how you integrate it, how you talk to your family, friends, and classmates about it. That's what learning is. As noted psychology and education expert Seymour Sarason reminded me recently, it's similar to psychotherapists' belief that patients don't get better during the hour, but between the hours.

I'm not suggesting we throw out everything schools do now or everything those Harvard kids learned. I'm suggesting that we look more deeply at what we define as learning and be a discussion of excellence as a goal of every institution and try different things and see what works. Learning is about learning how to think. One of my favorite parts is when Tom, a man with a Ph. It seems to me that schools primarily teach kids how to take tests a skill one hardly uses in real life unless one is a contestant on a quiz show.

Elementary school prepares kids for junior high; junior high prepares them for high school. So, the goal—if we can call it that—of schools is to prepare kids for more school. I have now been a psychologist for 21 years, and one thing of which I am certain is that I have never—not even once—had to do in the profession what I needed to do to get an A in the introductory course, as well as in some of the other courses. In particular, I've never had to memorize a book or lecture. If I can't remember something, I just look it up.

The way schools set things up, however, they reward with As the students who are good memorizers, not just at the college level but at many other levels as well. Learning is about being mindful.