Education: Business or Pleasure?


Photo by V. Wiles

Photo by V. Wiles

Every educational venture is a journey.

There are, of course, different kinds of journeys. When the woman at Passport Control asks us, “Business or Pleasure?” what shall we say?

Getting from here to there, when you’re here and need to be there, is one kind of journey. In that event, almost anything that we encounter between here and there is something of an obstacle. A necessary obstacle, perhaps, but an obstacle nonetheless.

We want or need to be there. But we are here. Our need drives us to overcome the obstacles: buying a plane ticket, packing a bag, driving to the airport, getting through security, the flight, deplaning, picking up luggage, finding ground transportation that will take us to where we need to be. While we may enjoy certain aspects of this process—some people like to watch people in airport waiting areas, others enjoy taking off or landing—for the most part we only do these things because they’re necessary if we are to get from point A to point B. Someone else arranges all these processes for us. We may get to choose what flight we take, out of which airport, but apart from that we’re at the mercy of the airport, the airline, the TSA, the weather.

TSA Security Checkpoint

Photo by Bill Alldredge [https://flic.kr/p/5Rpy7z]

Many  educational ventures are like this. We start out at point A—a freshman, a novice, a beginner—and need or want or are required (by someone) to go to point Z—let’s call it graduation. The curriculum—which is related to the word for “running a course”—is an itinerary, and the purpose of that itinerary is to get us from point A to point Z. Each of the required courses is one step of that journey: from A to B, from B to C, etc.

Each course, then, is a journey inside a larger journey. The course starts, for instance, at G and intends for you to arrive at H. We are in Duluth and need to arrive in San Antonio. How will we get there? What will be the steps—the obstacles—along the way? With each step, as we move along, we triumph. Hooray! We passed, move ahead to the next step.

Rarely do we stop to reflect upon such steps. Do you ponder your packed bag? Your trek through security? No, with each step, we simply move ahead to the next step, the next task, the next obstacle. When we arrive at our pre-determined destination we hurrah at our success. We grab the prize—the grade, the credit-hours—and prepare to move on to the next step in the larger journey.

This is clearly a Business Trip. But it’s a business trip from which we never quite return home. We move on  and move up to better and, we hope, more profitable opportunities.

The “traditional” model of education looks something like this:

  • Learn new material through reading and listening to lectures.
  • Give voice to our understanding of the new material through peer discussions.
  • Study this new material, which is checked through quizzes and exams. Ideally, the tests and exams and the teacher’s correction of errors on those exams, strengthens the learning of the material.
  • Incorporate and extend this new material through writing a paper, either a research paper or perhaps some creative application of the new material. Ideally, the teacher’s response to the paper strengthens the learning of the material and shows us how to do the assignment better than we did it.

 

ATM

Photo by TaxCredit.net [https://flic.kr/p/do4R8d]

Decades ago, Paul Freire called this the “banking model” of education: There’s new material that needs to be consumed, to be learned by the student. Once the student learns that material, she or he puts it in their individual “I-know-stuff pocket” and then moves on to more material. The teacher, like an ATM with a degree, spits out the material and the student puts it in his or her pocket. The student never quite spends the “material” stashed away, but just continues to collect more material. It is a hoarding culture: “I know more than you do.”

It’s like an old-fashioned board game. Move along the path, step-by-step, collecting money as you go. The goal of the game is to get to the end of the path with the most money. Same goes for Education, as it is often conceived: move along the path, step-by-step, collecting knowledge as you go. You win when you graduate.

Does it work? Well, that’s what the whole movement of Assessment is about. This measuring thing that the Department of Education, all the Accreditation associations, and Congress all agree we must do. It’s sort of like the TSA of the Educational Journey. Let’s establish rubrics and outcomes and measure all those steps according to made-up rules for how much knowledge (and the rest of Bloom’s Taxonomy) you’ve collected by the end of the course, by graduation.

This is a Business Trip. Serious stuff. It’s about the “business” of getting the prize at the end of the journey—the grade, the credit hours, the diploma.

But what if the educational process could be conceived as a different kind of journey?

What if this were a pleasure trip?

Tourists Reading

Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões [https://flic.kr/p/eieoNR]

Sure, in any business trip you may enjoy and find pleasure along the pathway of that journey. But any pleasure is a plus-factor, not an essential element of the trip. The business trip is more about overcoming the obstacles than about enjoying the journey.

Is it possible to conceive of education as a “pleasure trip”? As a trip of pleasure that along the way accomplishes business — rather than a business trip that might perchance offer bits of pleasure. What if we reversed those two emphases?

Stay tuned — I have some thoughts on that “What if?” question. My next post will be: “The Pleasure of Learning” or maybe I mean “The Learning of Pleasure.”

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