An Educational Problem: The Transfer or Use of Learning Skills from School To Living
There exists a rather distressing fact, that the intellectual skills bestowed upon us by our education are not readily transferable to subjects other than those in which we acquired them. If a student is fortunate enough to remember what he has learned (or even a small percentage thereof), he has forgotten altogether how he learned it. The defect in our education seems to be this: that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects”, we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think. They may learn things…except the art of learning. At one point in education, we believed in requiring a child to “express himself” before we taught him how to handle the tools and materials which he needed in order to be able to express himself. He needs first to learn by experience in school tasks and activities, how to economize his work, use the right tools, have a comfortable “feel” for the tools…so that when he has reached a point in his mental development, he will indeed be prepared to “express himself” creatively, in one form or another.
We need first to teach all the uses of basic tools, not just “subjects”. Then we can proceed to teach methods of dealing with subjects, all the approaches and techniques of tackling new tasks which students need to learn and want to learn. For example, grammar is a subject (the tools of a language) in the sense that it does definitely mean learning a language. But language itself is simply a medium in which thought is expressed. In the early years of education, the child learns the proper use of the tools of learning, through instruction, guidance, practice, and more practice…until he is comfortable with the many uses of the tools…before he begins to apply these tools to “subjects” at all.
First he learns the language, its structure: what it is, how it is put together, how it works…not by labels alone, but how it works. Then, when the student has accomplished this first level of learning how to use the tools, he can go on to learn the language: how to define his terms and make accurate statements, how to construct an argument and how to detect fallacies in argument. At this point in more advanced mental development, he is beginning to use logic and disputation.
And later, in far more advanced years, he enters the third level of learning to express himself in language: how to say what he has to say, elegantly, and persuasively. At the end of this tri-level of learning, he will be able to compose a thesis upon some chosen theme or issue, and then defend his thesis against criticism. BY this time he would have learned not merely to write an essay on paper, but to speak audibly and intelligently from a platform, and how to use his wits quickly when heckled (my college speech class with the Boston professor…excellent! trial by fire!).
There would also be questions, cogent and shrewd, from those who had already run the gauntlet of debate.
To summarize, modern education has concentrated on teaching subjects…leaving the method and art of thinking, arguing, and expressing one’s conclusions to be picked up by the scholar as he goes along; an improved education would concentrate on first forging and learning to handle the tools of learning, using whatever subject comes handy as a piece of material on which to doodle until the use of the tool became second nature.
In regard to learning our own language, and enjoying its use to the highest and most proficient degree…we need only look around us to see the shameless abuse made in print and on the platform, of controversial and vague expressions with shifting and ambiguous connotations. We let our students go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word, the bombardment of “doublespeak” and media influence, without knowing how to distinguish defensively the source and intent of the bombardment, the incessant battering of words, words, and more words: the so-called “Age of Information Services”. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward tehm off or blunt their edge. Many do not even try.
Even in daily conversation, they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being masters of them in their intellects. Here is an argument for including word attack skills and a constant vocabulary enhancement program for students at all levels and in all subject fields…a responsibility of all teachers…an ongoing process.
We dole out lip service to the importance of education and, just occasionally, a little grant of research and development money; we postpone the school-leaving age, even extending “Bonehead English” and “Bonehead Math” into college and university classes…to supposedly make up for what was never acquired in public school, on a most basic level. We plan to build bigger, better, fancier schools; we offer every subject under the sun; some teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, much of this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning. In their absence, we can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.
What then, are we to do? How do we make a revision of our errors? Our behavior is not determined as irreversible; we can do anything, if it is worthwhile, well-planned, and clearly understood.
Let us create an ideal situation, first, in our minds. Make a clean sweep of all educational authorities and agencies (what a savings in $!! uselessly wasted). Furnish ourselves with a nice little school of boys and girls whom we may experimentally equip for the intellectual conflict along lines chosen by ourselves. Endow them with exceptionally docile and cooperative parents. We will staff our school with teachers who are themselves perfectly familiar with and enthusiastic about the aims and methods of the tri-level interests of educating a child. We will have our bulidings and staff large enough to allow our classes to be small enough for adequate and reasonable handling.
I am particularly concerned (in addition to each child’s inner development of his/her “life wish”) with the proper and most applicable training of the mind to encounter and deal well with the formidable mass of undigested problems presented to it by the modern world. For the tools of learning are the same, in any an every subject; the person who knows how to use them will, at any age, get the mastery of a new subject in half the time and with a quarter of the effort expended by the person who has not the tools at his command. To have learned and remembered the art of learning makes the approach to every subject an open door. This is why we must learn “how to learn and study” in each and every classroom.
As our society seems to “speed up”, it has also been losing much that is of value to each person (values, standards, good habits, compassion, reverence for all living things and one’s self, affection, warmth, knowing how to love and be loved, etc.) We have lost the tools of learning and being…that were so adaptable to all tasks.
What use is it to pile task on task and prolong the days of labor, if at the close the chief object is left unattained? The combined folly and “institutions” of a civilization that has forgotten the “good things” and has lost an appreciation for the strong-minded, honest, and capable individual in a free and open society…is forcing them to shore up the tottering weight of an educational structure that is built upon sand. They are often trying to do for their pupils the work which the pupils themselves ought to do, and can, if properly trained and guided. For the sole true end of education is simply this:
To teach men/women how to learn for tehmselves, and whatever instruction/guidance fails to do this is effort spent in vain.
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