Monday, July 23, 2012

What Does a Good Education Look Like?

Ever given any thought to that question?  Both members of the TU  were fortunate to receive a good education during our youth, I think.  This was not an accident.  It took hard work from parents, educators and even us.     Stepping back to gain a wider view might be helpful since we are all trying to provide the best for our young people.   We here at the TU have kids in public school, we teach others kids in school and obviously have what we feel is a well informed opinion.   But the phrase "good education" can be nuanced by people for a variety of reasons.  It can mis-characterized,  exaggerated, twisted, falsified, and fabricated so that other purposes may be served. Still I don't think you "get" a good education, you are given an opportunity and then earn it.

When describing a good education people use many differing phrases.  Many of these fail to frame the subject with any degree of specificity.  Instead the terms used glow with ambiguity and define things in a more general sense.  That's not necessarily a bad thing and allows for flexibility.  Effort by many to quantify and replicate what they see as a good a "good" education has produced the opposite result. This may in part be a symptom of only working towards a defined outcome.  It is OK that that phrase has a different meaning to different people and it is more about a process.  With so many buzzwords in the lexicon of education today a quick dialogue on the subject is worthwhile.   It can't hurt to enumerate some things that characterize what our schools should be about.  So let's do so from the point of view of a parent asking for things from a school for their child.

School: "Hi there!  Welcome to our school.  What can we do for you?"

Parent: "Well I have a 9th grade child starting school here tomorrow and would like to make a few requests for things I want for my child."

School: " Go right ahead."

Parent: "First off, my child is very special and I'd like them treated as such.  Just like when I sent them off to Kindergarten I want them to feel safe, loved and gain a sense of independence.   I want them treated as a unique individual with has access to caring and trusted professionals who have a say in the school.  I 'd like my child provided with a rich varied learning diet that imparts key knowledge and skills needed by any well informed  individual.  Preferably emphasizing the normal core subjects.  They'll need math and science, english and of course, history.  Throw in some other languages for good measure.  I'd like them to develop an active and healthy lifestyle so they'll need some physical education classes and also health.  I'd like to stress that they learn to read and write well.  The approach in all of these classes should be innovative but not too far removed from solid trusted foundations. They should learn to think critically about subjects and get to explore things that interest them.   I want them to view their education as an investment in their future, whatever that may be. 

Learning about all of this should help them gain a sense of their own identity.  I want them to develop curiosity and creativity.  Exposure in the arts and music certainly would help with this.    These pursuits should allow my child to grow in non academic ways and have an appreciation of art and music, even if they themselves do not have an talent for them.  I'd like my child to have access to the types of technology that aid us all in the modern world.   I want them to see technology as a powerful tool and not a shortcut.    The school should be well funded so it is not wanting for what it needs.  My child should be given the opportunity for a rich discourse on subjects and learn more than just about it and instead experience it.   

Beyond academics, my child needs to learn to work with others as part of a group.  Whether that is through cooperative projects, on a sports team, club, or in some other fashion I want them to establish positive relationships.  They'll need the skills to become a good communicator.   I want them to learn about leadership and respect. I'd like my child to be nurtured and supported when they need it and I also want them challenged and learn the value of hard work.  I know it won't all be smooth sailing so they'll need to be able to handle conflict and work through it.    They'll need to learn to persevere through adversity and disappointment and learn how to respond to and learn from to failure.  I'd like the school and teachers to be open in communicating things with me so I may aid in all of this.

I want my child to have an equal chance to pursue excellence.  They should learn about honesty and integrity.  I want them to be proud of their work. I want them to learn about  responsibility, dependability and If they don't thrive as much as others I still want them to be safe, happy and know that people care about them.    I want them to learn to be the best they can be.  Beyond themselves, I'd like them to learn to recognize their role in the school, local community and  develop personal responsibility to themselves and all those those around them.   In the end they will want to contribute positively to their community through what they learn.

These are all things I want.  I know it is a great deal to ask.  I just want my child to have a chance at a good education"

Fact is there are many ways to answer that question.  Love to hear input from others beyond this hastily compiled version.   Please feel free to share in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. As David Foster Wallace wrote in his brilliant Kenyon commencement speech, "I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out." (

    Education should force us to see beyond ourselves; to take on and understand issues from various perspectives; to gain empathy and understanding for those of different backgrounds and beliefs. An education should be disorienting, cause us to challenge our own long-held assumptions, and result in an acknowledgement of the common experiences which connect every disparate part of humanity to one another. A failure to do so condemns us, as another great author wrote, to live as we dream—alone.