Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More Thoughts on Education

As we approach the end of the spring semester, graduations loom on the horizon for some.  Thus, I'm reminded of our obligation as educators to prepare our students for their lives and careers.  Many business leaders are dissatisfied with the education system, as many new graduates don't have have a functional grasp of critical skills that they should be obtaining from their educational experience.  And it's evident that the US public, on the average, is embarrassingly ignorant about many things:  history, math, science, etc. 

It also appears that K-12 teachers and university faculty are feeling various sorts of negativity from certain circles (notably, the teabaggers).  K-12 teachers are terribly underpaid for what they do, and the poisonous two-headed monster of politics/bureaucracy has definitely muddied the waters for K-12 educators and for university faculty.  I have always been puzzled by the poor salaries paid to our public school K-12 teachers who, after all, are charged with educating our children, who in turn represent our future.  Does it make sense to pinch pennies when it comes to our future?  School is not always what it should be - see here and here for a somewhat more extended discussion - but the failings in our education are not solely the fault of teachers and professors.

Nearly everyone knows one or more "educated idiots"- people with post-baccalaureate diplomas who manage to be incompetent in their profession and/or seem to have little or no common sense.  A diploma is mostly about being persistent, and doesn't depend much on intellectual horsepower.  There is no basis for the widespread academic elitism - not in science and not in any other aspect of life.  Just because you have a diploma (or even more than one) doesn't guarantee a thing about how smart you are compared with someone lacking such a diploma.

As I was nearing the end of my undergraduate studies, I discovered something wonderful about education:  if you accept responsibility for the success of your education, rather than depending on anyone else, then you can take control of your educational outcome!  I call it "taking ownership of your education" - and you can "cheat" the system by getting precisely what you want from the process, no matter what obstacles they might throw up in front of you, like bad teachers.  Of course, this presumes you have some reason to be in school that makes sense to you, rather than being there because someone expects you to be there, or whatever.  If you have what you believe to be good reasons for obtaining a diploma - in some career paths, a diploma is mandatory, for example - then you have an unending motivation to get something from the experience.  And when you take possession of your education, you almost certainly will be successful along the way.

A while back, I wrote two 'books' about how to be a successful college student in science or engineering - one for undergraduate students and one for graduate students.  Although I necessarily had to write about science/engineering education, I believe many of the things mentioned in those 'books' can be applied by anyone participating in college education, regardless of their career path.

I've also written about the broken promises of the American educational lie - sadly, an education is no guarantee of anything, despite its heavy cost in both time and money.  Done successfully, it may prepare you for success in life and career, but that success is not automatic.  In bad economic times, the promise of a rewarding job in your chosen profession can be elusive.  Having said that, if you don't get your educational outcome, then the chances of your being allowed to pursue what you've dreamed of doing are even smaller, and may be nearly impossible.

Education is not so much about memorizing facts, although some poor teachers seem to behave as if they think so.  It's mostly about learning :

  (1) how to answer your own questions,  
  (2) how to think logically and solve real-world problems (big and small), and
  (3) how to recognize bullshit when someone is attempting to feed it to you. 

You should also take the opportunity to make a serious effort to learn communication skills (via both the written and the spoken word) because everyone needs those! 

For all the graduates-to-be, congratulations!  Whether you are done with school or have the prospect of more in front of you, ask yourselves if you've accomplished these educational goals.  If not, you probably need to take responsibility for learning these things on your own.  You will need them!


Barry Sorros said...

Haha!! You called people who don't agree with you "teabaggers". That means they put men's balls in their mouth's. So that kind of mean's you are making fun of homo's! Are you a homophobe? Oh wait progressives can't be homophobes??? Or can they? I know you can't post this but it is always fun to point out hypocrisy LMFAO!!

Chuck Doswell said...


I posted this anyway. Your comment is so "hilarious", I thought my readers might find it ... interesting.

Justin Reid said...

Chuck, this post really does hit home for me, now that I am out of college and a working meteorologist. As someone who heard your "taking ownership" talk back in 2009 I can attest that it is true in more ways than I could possibly imagine.

However, in many ways the opportunities to take ownership in the educational system have been eroded for my generation. A lot of my bad university experiences were actually related to the wealth inequality problem in this country, and there are a lot of self-fulfilling prophecies within the system that help to exacerbate this issue. However even with these barriers I still have my degree and "real" experience needed for the workplace.

I always imagined that I would end in graduate school and be a part of the research community. Instead I'm part of a private weather company as a computer programmer/software developer. I have no regrets and I will still be taking "ownership" over what I learn. However, I feel it will be less in the realm of academia and more of the "maker" way of professional life.