Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Valedectorian and the Piano Teacher

I came across two wonderful articles today.

The first is the valedictorian speech given by Erica Goldson at her high school graduation . There's also a video of her speech online.

Erica says (italics mine):
Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn't you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.
I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I'm scared. 
Erica is remarkably mature to have already come to these conclusions about the price of success in a conventional school. I am only just starting to understand the implications myself.


The second wonderful article I came across today was part 2 of a Piano teacher's response to the Amy Chua article, titled "Beyond Carrot and Sticks: How to Motivate Children (Or Why It's Not Necessary)". In this incisive commentary, she diagnoses (correctly, in my opinion) that the core problem with our societal attitude towards education is that it is based fundamentally on the presumption that most children are "lazy":
This vast disconnect between what we expect from children (laziness) and what’s actually there (energy, creativity and curiosity) goes right to the heart of what’s wrong with our educational system today. Our society has a collective idea that Learning Is Boring. “Obviously” children are not going to want to learn about negative numbers, write stories or practice piano on their own initiative, right? So either we have to bribe or coerce them.
She argues that both these approaches are flawed. She advances an alternative theory in five points, that I would summarize and rephrase in three as follows:
  1. Children are naturally creative, curious, and enjoy learning.
  2. But they won't learn in a vacuum; It is essential for the grown ups and others in their lives to interact with them and expose them to a wide range of possibilities through natural experiences and activities.
  3. Learning is not about passively accumulating information and doing well on tests, it's about actively exploring the world, finding out how it works, and developing passions. Towards this end, educational tv shows (or traditional classroom lectures!) are not effective and can actually dampen curiosity.
She adds:
Children do not need to be “motivated”. They come that way naturally. The danger is that they will become “demotivated” – either through passive TV-watching (usually when both parents work outside the home) or through an educational system that emphasizes “right answers” and “good marks” over intellectual curiosity. But, if they are given the tools that will let them pursue their passions, they won’t be spending six hours a day on Facebook
As a college teacher who encounters many such "demotivated" students each year (students who have been trained by the system to be motivated in a classroom setting only by the carrots and sticks of grading), I can tell you that the damage done to their spirits, their creativity, their sense of passion for learning, is deep and hard to reverse.  There has to be a broader recognition of how harmful this widespread "lazy kids" prejudice is.

1 comment: said...

Sometimes i have indeed to be The Valedictorian and sometimes to be the Piano Teacher. So i am in hesitation so more. So this post helps me to give more information about these.I like this post so much.