Real Education is Relevant | IDEA

Real Education is Relevant

Posted by Shawn Strader on Nov 03, 2011 - 01:39 PM

In high school, I maintained consistently horrible grades in math. It was mainly Algebra that killed my GPA. I just didn't get it you know? But gosh... I wanted to. I wanted to understand all those letters and symbols so bad. I've always had trouble learning something if I didn't understand the practicality and usefulness of it though. So in my Algebra class... the one I took three years in a row in high school... I asked more than one teacher, on more than one occasion,

"How is Algebra useful in a real world situation?"
"Why do the rules of Algebra work the way they do?"
"How do we know that this stuff is really true anyway? How is the truth of Algebra confirmed in the world and not on paper?"

But I never got any good answers. They just told me to pay attention in class, do my homework, and study the textbook. They said that if I did that, then I would understand.

I did pay attention though, and I did do my homework (not well - I didn't understand), and I did read the books, and I dunno... it just didn't work for me. To this day, I still don't get Algebra. I got through it okay in the early years of college, but never really understood it much. Now, after some intense philosophy courses in my later college years, I feel more able to grip the abstract variables, and plug into Algebra and actually enjoy it. I haven't tried studying it again in depth though, not yet.

In high school, Algebra just wasn't relevant to me, at all. For starters, nobody could tell me why it was important or how it worked, so I wasn't really able to engage. For that reason, I kind of didn't care and I was pretty defiant about Algebra,  because it seemed like nonsense. To me, it was just following arbitrary rules, and I thought that was totally bogus and meaningless. Instead, I was engaging in other activities that were relevant and meaningful to me. I was playing in bands and writing songs. I was skateboarding. I was making friends and paying attention to girls. I was dealing with life at home... I was doing the things I loved, and I was dealing with life. At school, I was excelling in English, some Science, the History I cared about, Art, and Extra Curriculurs. Those subjects were relevant to me and my life. They mattered.

But Algebra, man... Not undertanding was one thing, but then I got bad grades. So then I got in trouble in school and my parents were not entirely pleased. I had to take summer school. I had to do all of this time consuming and intrusive crap because I didn't understand Algebra, that one pesky subject that was being crammed down my throat but that just wouldn't digest.

In all those three years of study and the one summer course I had to take, nobody gave me good answers to my questions. And to this day, I have not once been set back in my post-high school life by not knowing Algebra. So why the hell were they forcing us all to take it? They were failing me and other kids time and time again, and now, here I am as an adult, and I have absolutely no use for Algebra. The subject is still irrelevant, and all I have now are bad memories of the subject.

My point in all of this isn't to just bash Algebra, though. Some people love it and make use for it. Algebra was just the most irrelevant subject for me personally.

My point is that, when we force irrelevant subjects on students, they fail to fully engage and we only cause them struggle. And sure, people learn things from struggle, like how to cheat. But an education focused on struggle doesn't seem like a great model. I can't envision a school's slogan deliberately being, "We force subjects on students, push them to the point of failure and struggle, and let them figure out how to cope with the whole mess". Ironically enough, that may indeed be the unconscious and operating slogan of a large number of schools in our nation and the world...

Real education calls for engagement. And who fully engages in things that aren't relevant to them? Why would anyone want to?

Real education is meaningful and relevant to the individual. Relevant to their life, their community, their social class, their interests, from their shoes, from their minds, and from their style of learning. When you think about how different each individual is from one another, and how far the differences are between, say, the lives of the poorest individuals and of the richest individuals, it's easy to see that a real, meaningful, and relevant education must look, feel, and actually be different for each individual.

It's no wonder that the standardized model is failing people around the world.... How could one rigid model possibly be relevant and prompt engagement to everyone plugged in when every individual has their own unique and different life and perspective?