Ever since I started to lean out of the crib and explore the world around me I was on a path to learn. Each of us obtains some level of education, be it formal with degrees associated to our name or informal with knowledge gained which helps us in our advancement. Some of us are satisfied with the level we have achieved while others continue to press onward in a quest for knowledge. No matter what our choices we make as an adult, clearly the earliest stages of our education rely on others to determine content and delivery. This beginning often determines our ability to become learners of useful or useless knowledge. No doubt many people randomly selected off the street could tell you the latest meltdown news on a celebrity or current music they enjoy but most likely have difficulty in describing the purpose for the Preamble to the Constitution.
I once taught adult education and was challenged by one of the students who found the principle reason to go to school was it helped in making ends meet. He said he couldn’t remember all of the terminology used in the class because he was too old. Knowing him well enough I asked him some current detailed baseball statistics, which he had no trouble in recalling. I asked him why he could remember so many arcane details and he said it was because he was interested in sports. I made the suggestion that perhaps he should be as interested in making a good living as remembering sports trivia. This brings me to a point which I hope eventually becomes apparent.
I have spent a couple of weeks in an area of the US landscaped with mountains, trees and coffee shacks. While visiting I have gained an insight in a learning technique that has as far as I can tell gone without much notice. When I attended my first 12 years of school these simple learning fundamentals were not taught. What amazes me is how seemingly simple these ideas are as well as practical. I’ve been a guest of a private school in Sheridan Oregon for two weeks. What I saw was absolutely phenomenal. The students vary in age from the lower elementary age to those ready to graduate from the equivalent 12th grade in high school. While walking around I saw all of the students actively involved in learning with varying projects not based on age, but competency level. Completion of each stage of learning has benchmarks which are not based on GPA but completing the work and then testing to determine if they really grasp what they learned. The goal is never to just get by but truly understand with 100% facility.
The pleasant hum of active learning goes on without interruption or artificial staging. I was brought on a tour by a teenage student who had to learn English in addition to all of the other requirements. It was obvious to me as she showed me classroom areas, labs, library, cafeteria and dormitory that she was very proud of the facilities and what she as well as others accomplished. I marveled at not only the informality of each of the learning centers but the desire for each student to apply themselves and have their progression measured. This is opposite of the experience I had or what I see occurring in our schools today.
So are the students being educated or indoctrinated? I know the Delphian School in Sheridan Oregon has had numerous outside visitors from other educational institutions. What have they concluded? Do they think the students whose backgrounds are Taoists, Buddhists, Protestants, Catholics or Atheists, convert to some other type of religion? Yes, the study techniques themselves originated from L. Ron Hubbard who founded Scientology but do these techniques lead the student to declare themselves Scientologists? Do students going to Harvard become Christians? The evidence in both examples show this to not be the case. What about the quality of the student? After all the standardized testing hoopla and latest educational mumbo-jumbo, what do we have? I can tell you from my interaction with these students compared to that of the other institutions I’ve visited or been a part of over the years, I’m impressed. You can certainly find ways to criticize or belittle what is being done but the truth is they are turning out significantly educated, well adjusted students typically more prepared than many of their counterparts found elsewhere. Many education administrators as well as parents have failed to grasp the seriousness of what it takes to prepare students in the 21st century and are clinging to old notions. Some parents are producing an ongoing deluge of misdirected under loved offspring that someday will be in charge and challenged with problems beyond the cope of mere technology.
I hope many more people interested in creating a learning environment, come visit and see what works and see what they can adopt for their institutions. It seems most of us recognize there is a problem but so far can’t agree upon a solution.