David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
A Pirate (fan) Looks at Fifty*

April 30, 2012:  A Pirate (fan) Looks at Fifty*

 I turned fifty over the weekend and have come to contemplate five decades of life in education.  Having grown up in a college town, the son of a college professor, a household steeped in the values of higher education, I see that the last five decades have represented all one needs to know about education. 

Think about the first decade (birth through 9 years).  The student asks, "teacher what is learning?" The teacher responds, "learning is a game."  The teacher gives the student a little direction, a few rules, and the opportunity to let the mind go.  It's Battleship.  It's Clue.  It's when my fourth grade teacher randomly gave me ten words, and told me to write a story using them.

Let's move to the second decade (10-19 years).  The student asks, "teacher, what is learning?" The teacher responds, "learning is gamesmanship."  The teacher focuses more on how to use what is learned.  It's problem solving as a means to an end.  It's algebra.  It's debate club.  It's writing "Smellalot Bones," mini-mysteries for the junior high school paper, as a way to define myself.  Use all the words available and write a story.

In the third decade (20-29 years), the student asks, "professor, what is learning?" The professor responds, "learning is pedantry."  It's learning to depth. It's learning about learning, meta-reading, meta-cognition, meta-more-paralysis.  It's scouring the poems of Emily Dickinson, looking for examples of scientific method.  It's define words, provide etymologies, coin multi-syllabic words, assert there is no story in this class.

By the fourth decade (30-39 years), it's the professor who says, "students, what is learning?"  After a painful silence, the professor responds, "learning is perspective."  It's wiping away what a student thinks he/she knows. It's making the dense, clear; it's shedding light on what is dark.  It's the joy of teaching Leda and the Swan to the horrified, the smug and the cynical.  It's using the words to interpret the story.

Now that the fifth decade (40-49 years) is complete, the student asks, "Administrator, what am I learning?"  The administrator responds, "You are learning outcomes."  Outcomes equal accountability.  Students are completers, the ends to the means.  It's strategic planning, long-range goals, a place to get to, the path less important that the destination.  It's the story with the assignment: find ten words.


*My apologies for the completely mis-leading title.  You listen to a little Jimmy Buffet and you realize his titles are made for blog titles.  If I really had written about five decades of watching Pirate baseball, it would have been "The Arm" (Roberto Clemente, birth to 9 years), "Pops" (Willie Stargell, 10 to 19 years), "Scandal to Heartbreak" (Drug scandals and Francisco freaking Cabrera, 20-29 years), "Despair" (30-39 years), "Depths of Despair"(40-49 years).