Today I was reminded of school because somebody lamented that they’d have to go back, and that it was useless, and that they weren’t learning anything useful. The girl was studying to be an economist, eventually, but she still has a year left until she gets her A-levels. And her complaint made me think about school again.

critical-thinking-cartoonIt felt funny sitting at Costas with a big mug of tea in front of me and think about something I’ve left behind now. I won’t ever go back to my college, most likely, unless I have to nip in for some reason concerning the magazine. But the charity that publish it has a small office in town, so I shouldn’t have to go to the town where my old college is.

What did I learn during my two years, beyond the skill to navigate past the tests for the A-levels? Tests which I, ironically, get the results for on the same day I wed Mark. I think that what I learned most was to acquire knowledge, and to process knowledge. And to write wild essays that made my lit teacher roll her eyes at times. But as long as the theme was sound, and the attributions were in order, she let it slide.

It was never so important to know when some old King died, or when Modernism started, or who wrote the Melian Dialogue. Not by heart, at least. What was important was that I could find out, and present the findings in an acceptable format, and learn by myself.

From what friends, and this girl, tells me I was indeed lucky in the choice of school that gave me this opportunity. My tea company today moaned more about learning equations and processes by rote than understanding why. All so that she could pass the tests line up in the last year.

Mark has expressed similar concerns; that he was more fed equations than understanding. Since Mark really loves maths and science and stuff he spent quite some time getting the knowledge he needed himself, but it was not required. What was required was that he passed the tests, and his school focused on preparing him for those. Still, he says that his school was better in the sixth form classes than it was earlier.

All this makes me think that maybe people are being done ill by in a system that only reward test results. If they only know facts, instead of how to learn and understand facts, then maybe they won’t do so well in life and university. And maybe then, the idea that they aren’t learning anything useful becomes a self-serving thing. By not valuing what they know, maybe they devalue themselves so much that what they learn won’t actually be important?

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