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Real Education is as Relevant as Buying Milk

Posted by Megan Nesbeth on Nov 03, 2011 - 05:10 PM

Real education is relevant.  It presents students with a reason to learn and care about the subject at hand.  It’s not rote memorization for a test or tedious exercises, but problem solving that forces students to think on their feet. 

The first child in any family is a guinea pig and beyond survival, one of the biggest things that new parents are trying to figure out is how to transmit essential information to their kids.  My parents took the approach of making the world my classroom.  They gave tasks to complete at every turn – from the playground, to amusement parks, to the supermarket.    

For some reason when I was a little girl my family bought milk from somewhere different than where we got the rest of our groceries – it was probably because milk is one of those things that you run out of a bit faster than other things, but that’s beyond the point.  The point was that at age 3 buying milk was a form of torture for me.  At age 22 it’s one of my most formative educational memories.  Whenever we ran out of milk my dad said, “Come on get in the car,” and I moaned and groaned all the way to the convenience store because I knew that I was going to have to do math when we got there.  You see rather than come into the store with me my dad would give me some random amount of money that he’d committed to memory and send me in to pick up a pint, half gallon, or full gallon of milk.  He almost always gave me more money than I needed so that part wasn’t hard.  The tricky stuff came when I successfully made it back to the car with milk in hand.  My dad wouldn’t just take the change from me, but instead he’d sit there and have me count my change out subtract it from whatever he’d initially given me and verify that I had gotten the right amount back.  When this little game first started or on a day when my dad sent me in with a particularly evil sum of money like $5.63 the conversation would go back and forth as I got the answer wrong a couple times. 

“No, that’s not it.” 
“Try again.  How much is each quarter worth?” 
“25 cents.”
“And how many quarters do you have?” 
“Three.”
“So that’s how much?”
“75 cents.”
“Plus a nickel and a dime…”
“90 cents.”
“And how much is in your hand?”
“93 cents.”
“So did you get the right change?”
“No,” I’d say with a defeated sigh.
“Then go back inside and give back the extra.” 

I would beg to just keep the three cents or not to go back in when we’d been shorted a nickel but it wasn’t about the money.  My dad was a stickler for making sure that that I did things correctly because that’s what made the task worthwhile.  He’d even stop talking to me if he thought I was guessing random numbers and then we’d sit in the parking lot until I figured it out by myself, often in a complete fury by then.  As much as I wanted to leave that parking lot and go back to my toys or at least tattle-tale to mommy that daddy made me made I was trapped until I solved the math problem of the day, but knowing that I was stuck was what made me work at the answer until I got it right.

Real education holds within it the same magic that makes each level of a video game so exciting.  There’s a challenge, and the knowledge that the player gains while figuring out how to jump over obstacles and dive around a corner become the key to unlocking the next door.  When we teach our youngest learners we seem to remember that real learning has a sense of urgency to it, but as students grow older we tend to forget that the stakes need to remain high and meaningful, but not only when we’re talking about tests. 

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