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The Journey

October 27, 2014

I named this blog to reflect my belief that the goal of education is not to arrive at an end point. I do not believe we are ever able to stand up and say: “That’s it! I’m done being educated!” Rather, the goal of education is the process. Chris Smeaton, Superintendent of Holy Spirit School Division summed this sentiment up by saying: “we need to frame everything about learning not learned.” Hopefully, we are never finished learning and continue journeying along the path for our entire life.

What Does it Mean to be Educated?

This question has come up many times in the past few weeks. My wife and I have discussed it relative to the work she is doing on Curriculum Redesign in Alberta. My colleagues and I discussed it in context of high school redesign and student engagement. It is a question that seems to surface quite often. So, what is the answer. In doing some research for this post, I came across a number of posts promoting differing viewpoints and answers. The first one I read comes from Education theorist, author and philosopher, Alfie Kohn. In the article, Kohn writes about his ex-wife, a highly educated physician. He suggests that her 29 years of formal education and residency training qualifies her as highly educated. However, he also describes her inability to spell, her lack of understanding regarding grammar, and her limited knowledge of classical literature. He presents this as a paradox. His ex-wife is clearly a well educated individual, devoting almost three decades to formal education. Yet, her seeming lack of knowledge regarding spelling, grammar, and literature seems contrary to the idea of well educated. As such, what does it mean to be educated.

The Cannon

One question I often have is whether there exists a “Cannon” of knowledge all individuals should have. In order to be called educated, should we all have knowledge about specific events in history, mathematical theorems, scientific processes, and classical literature? In the past, this was the definition of an educated man. He had an understanding of major topics from the sciences, history, philosophy, religion and literature. He made the great trek to the most important locations in the world. This was an educated man.

I don’t buy into this definition. First, it was only reserved for men – women, after all, were not people. This sexist orientation to learning continues to exist today. One only has to look to corporate boardrooms or political caucus rooms to see there is a lack of female representation. Second, the concept of the “Cannon” is based on Western, white, Anglo Saxon history. This does not reflect our current cultural or religious environment in our schools. Finally, the concept of the “Cannon” promotes the idea that education and learning is an endpoint that can be arrived at after years of studying.

The Journey

The second piece I came across is from writer, Josh Kaufman. He presents lists from prestigious US universities that describe an educated person. These are skills rather than information sets that educated people must possess. This reflects my view that the process of education and learning is what is most significant. The lists presented by Kaufman include skills such as acting as a lifelong learner, expressing viewpoints in multiple methods, collaborating, and knowing how to find needed information. One thing all of the lists have in common is the belief that learning is never finished. People who are “educated” continue to maintain a growth mindset for their entire lives and continue along the path of learning. There is not an endpoint they reach. Rather, they continually learn, unlearn, and relearn as necessary. In order to do this, individuals need to have a foundation of skills in numeracy and literacy. But the goal of our schools should not be to pour an outdated “Cannon” into the minds of our students. Instead, we should focus on building skills that will prepare our students for their lifelong journey of learning.

As always, I appreciate comments and feedback. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. Have a great day,

Sean

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