Did your schooling serve you well?
As graduations and all sorts of moving-up ceremonies are going on around us as many school calendars end, let’s ask ourselves: how was school? I mean, really, how was it? Now that you are older, especially for those who are out of it and have experienced life’s unpredictable, complicatedly wondrous and torrentially beautiful climate, did your schooling serve your life well?
One of the most annoying questions I get as an adult is being asked what I studied over 30 years ago and then followed by why it is so different from what I do in life now. Of course, I have to forgive those who ask the question because they have been trained like most of the population, including myself, to think of school as some kind of learning factory. This is the kind of factory that fills us up with stuff we need in our heads so that our bodies can transport us later to jobs where we can unload all that stuff we have built up. But as I have shared with people who ask, I really started learning right after I left college. And I assert that this should be the case for people who graduate. They should immediately shun the sense of accomplishment that togas lend them and be on a deliberate adventure to learn new things and shed old ones. Why?
For now, I offer 3 reasons: one, schools, no matter how progressive they think they are, are still largely the product of the industrial revolution; two, you don’t get the teachers that you really need and want in school; and three, there is so much we know now about how humans learn that we did not know since schools were invented.
I think one of the big reasons why stories like Harry Potter, even Peter Pan resonate deeply with all kinds of audiences is that they appeal to the hungry child within us all. That hunger is for the kind of learning that is not that kind we get in school – where it is delivered by teacher after teacher, every period, requiring us to sit on our desks. Stories of Harry Potter or Peter Pan make learning resurface as what it should be – an adventure in every sensory and imaginative branch of one’s being. Harry Potter embraces the universe with an understanding and enthusiasm scored by a boom-in-your heart spirit.
But if you look at the history of schools, you will note that schools are all patterned after a system that grew out of the need to produce trained manpower to fuel the Industrial Revolution. They had a target. They were to fill a world of factories so they wanted people who were also schooled in factories of learning. First in, first out, uniform and standardized curriculum, the best ones in that kind of system get the trophies and get to characterize the schooling in their valedictory speech and off they go to serve as the heads of “factories” even of the post-industrial world we live in now.
But if that is so great and adaptive, why is our world where it is now? Hunger amidst plenty and waste; the summary worth of few trillionaires equal to most of the planet’s income; and while people can now get an Eiffel tower of university degrees, a stupendous number of people still do not know how to read.
What is silenced by this factory schooling is the sense of adventure that learning really is. We start out school brimming with it from a child’s innate exuberance for discovery and slowly, schools – as Sir Ken Robinson, puts it in his TED Talk – dislocates many people from their natural gifts. And since human resources are just like natural resources, they are buried deep so you have to look for them. I think they are even buried deeper and could be uncovered in different ways in different children. So how could a uniformed factory pattern of a school, where hundreds, regardless of their uniqueness, are shoved in to follow that pattern, ever serve the post-industrial world or even make us unravel as individuals?
Second, Miss Galang and Miss Vicente are no more. I just could not find them anymore. Not even with Google and Facebook. They were my favorite mentors. That is because they did not think of themselves as the foot soldiers of the school who hired them. Miss Galang was our Mr. Keating (Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets Society). She had us loving Dostoevsky and Gogol and we looked forward to acting out those foreign psyches and extending our worlds. Miss Galang was our English teacher who managed to get droves of us lining up in the library to sign out novels to read for the weekends. She made us empty those literary shelves to the astonishment of our librarian.
Miss Vicente was my high school history teacher who made history extremely interesting for me that I could draw maps of the world as they were before and after battles and wars not just on exams but out of my own fascination as to how quickly we can change the world order. She would invite me to the teachers’ lounge if I had more questions and it is where she told me stories about the past which illuminated large chunks of the present for me. Teachers like those are rare. And when they are like that, they are no longer teachers but mentors. I deliberately sought out mentors right after college. I started with my own choice of a husband which made for a very interesting dynamic and that defined what a learning adventure is for me. Up to now, I am surrounded by friends, often, older, who are also my mentors.
But you cannot blame it all on the teachers now. Overburdened by students and a curriculum handed to them to fulfill defeats their own sense of creativity and adventure. There could never be enough teachers as the world grows. BUT there would always be adults – adults who are willing to mentor – whether you are still in school or already out of it.
Mentors could carefully design experiences for learners that will create the circumstances from which learners can discover their talents, whatever they are. An architect, for instance, can guide a child, first with a conversation about the passion to create spaces for humans, then with questions as to what humans yearn for when they move about, then with drawings and then with materials, then with tools and methods and then hopefully to an expansive understanding of place-making as a deep way to get into what makes humans connect with spaces.
Knowing what you know now, what kind of learning adventure will you design for a child you will mentor?
Last is, while science is important – with its precision and its popularly perceived claim to finding ways to make stuff that people can invest in, make and sell and create wealth from – it does not make for a complete life. A human being craves for a life that has aspects that cannot be weighed and measured in those terms. The arts and the humanities fulfill that role. All subjects, including practical arts and physical education, should be given equal weight in learning because they are all connected and contribute and expand what it means to be human and alive.
We know now that our brains are not divided into the what can serve the sciences alone or the arts and humanities alone. Thankfully, our brains are not walled that way. Our minds make bridges and viaducts across the many things that we come across in our experiences. Having subjects like science (further divided later on in school), math, arts (all lumped into one all the time unlike the sciences), physical education builds up a myth that these are parallel worlds that never meet.
But of course, they do. They always have.
The people who have known me in college are still puzzled as to why I ended up in science. The people who first knew me as someone in science are equally puzzled why I am also in the arts. I met someone recently who was trying at great lengths to explain to me what music does to him. He thought he had to explain to me, the one whom he learned worked in a science museum, what indescribable beauty and power music was. After his long treatise, I told him I volunteered to learn opera for 3 years when I was only 12 when my mother thought she was paying for cooking classes. He shook my hand after that and winked at me.
I did not hate school. In fact, I loved it. It thought it a great way in life to wean me off from the biases of my parents. I am grateful for the schooling I had and those who helped me have it. But I also had to shed a lot of it (I still do) to grow into what my inner life yearns for me to be. Those of us who have been there and done that kind of schooling must now have some deep yearning to turn that kind of schooling on its head now so that we do not lose the kids whose talents we could never witness. So really, how was school for you? Knowing what you know now about how life is, how would you want “school” to really be? – Rappler.com