With the conceptual tools offered by psychology, we now can, for instance, more readily investigate the effects of mistreatment on children's development.
My concern regarding the general disharmony of the relationship between adult and child stems from the awareness that we adults have the inclination to view the child as grossly inadequate. In our misguided efforts to help them, we downplay the significance of what the children themselves find applicable or attractive to their interests during their formative years. To put it briefly, the child's natural curiosity and spontaneity is suffocated by the unnecessary, if not outright damaging, and constant interventions of adults, who have the tendency to treat the child, often unconsciously, as an inferior human being. Such attitude, of course, implies distrust in the value of the child's self-regulation in the learning process.
This general attitude inevitably percolates through elementary educational structures, potentially reducing education to a mere utilitarian tool concerned primarily with societal rather than the child's needs. The central theme of the debate then emerges to be the purpose of education. The point I wish to raise in this section of my thesis is that a learning process that sacrifices children's unique capacity and universal ability to discover and learn spontaneously violates the healthy development of the creative, competent mind. What this means in practical terms, and how we can overcome these perceived inadequacies of the educational system, is a matter I would like to turn my attention to in the following section.
CHAPTER TWO: Purpose and Role of Education
Education is often conceptualized as preparation for adult life. Although this aspect of education is important, it must be taken in right perspective. Personally, I am deeply troubled by this simplistic and nearsighted view of the purpose of education.
It is because it stresses only what is perceived to be useful after the children leave school and enter the real world. Essentially, this is a view that somewhat artificially perpetuates the publicly accepted status quo. Hence teachers in traditional schools, carrying in mind this utilitarian principle, feed their students information that has no connection or real meaning to their current life experiences. As a teacher, I often felt discouraged to see children disinterested in most of the material presented. At the same time, I was quite limited in my ability to alter the compulsory curriculum presented to me. Yet, I was acutely aware that what I was preaching may very well be concrete in goals and content but seriously inadequate in methods. This is not to suggest that educational goals and content are somewhat secondary to method being applied. Rather, as I see it, content is necessary for knowledge and experience to be effectively acquired, but not on its own sufficient condition. In my view, it is goal-directed content coupled with age-appropriate method which takes into account individual differences, interests and drives that can unravel spontaneity, creativeness, and autonomy of critical thought in children. Under this doctrine, both the individual learner, and the school or the society, are the focal point of the educational process.
There is no doubt that the school is distinctive from other societal institutions in many respects but mainly, I think, in the area of delivering information, facts and verbal concepts. It is also fair to say that it is in this area that the school can go far beyond what the family can do, considering how much time and effort teachers presently channel into this endeavour. However, pedagogy so conceptualized fails to such matters as teaching children self-reliance and the ability to think independently. Provided that there is general agreement that the attainment of such qualities arises from direct and self-guided experience involving personal experience, it is logical to conclude that the traditional school is seriously lacking in this respect. Instead, children spend much time of the day sitting in rows, attending to teacher's instruction, scribbling notes, reading from textbooks. It would seem that schools nowadays have become almost less daring if you will. Somewhat ironically, the question arises, whether an entire generation of children will fail the preparation for adult life test because they cannot think their way through abstract problems, work in teams, distinguish good information from bad.
Particularly if one considers current economic and technological trends, I believe the present concentration on competency in reading and math is only the minimum. Likewise, scientific skills are utterly necessary but insufficient. Today's complexity of living with its increasingly global mode of thinking demands not only an adequate level of competence in the traditional academic disciplines but also the ability to evaluate new sources of information, to think outside the box and in general terms know more about the world. They need to have an understanding of such complexity and an overall balanced approach to problem solving and information processing. The matter is to teach children even at an early age how to be discerning consumers of information and to be able to investigate, communicate and rationally defend their own position. I think in age where Google and other search engines continue delivering a vast array of information of variable quality, it is absolutely essential for children and adults alike to posses these invaluable skills.
In an era of overwhelming information flow and ever pervasive attempt of the media to influence our common sensitivities, children need to be able to sift through what is presented to them and distinguish between what is reliable and what is not. Since we often act on information received, validating becomes an important aspect of daily living.
Another area to be considered is the emphasis on and development of communication skills and the ability to cooperate in teams. Perhaps even more pressing in the Canadian context, the ability to cooperate with people of differing cultural backgrounds. All this requires adding more depth and rigor to the curriculum design. Essentially, the Google era we live in, where information is available at a keystroke we need to redefine what the concepts of knowledge and preparation for adult life represent. Here again, I need to stress that children do need a substantial source of information in order to master complex concepts later in life. Without accumulating the fundamental principles of math, science or social studies this would be impossible to achieve. At the same time, however, there must be a proper balance between these core disciplines and the acquisition of wide variety of other more practical skills such is independent critical thinking, making connections between ideas, etc.
Having the opportunity to experience educational practice through elementary to university level in the former Czechoslovakia, I remember classes dwelled on key concepts that were taught in depth and in careful sequence in contrast to a succession of dry details. Extensive textbooks with new editions being published every three to four years together with tests support this approach. The typical textbook used by children as young as ten deals with mind-boggling array of topics and subtopics in an attempt to satisfy a vast range of prescribed standards. As a result, the instructional method where the seated class listens to a teacher reciting as the modus operandi, leaves little room for experimentation, applying these facts in real life situation, or self-actualizing form of learning. In fact, I strongly believe that it is through marrying theory and practice that a fact becomes more meaningful and engrained in the child's unconsciousness. It is precisely direct experience that allows the child to make a personal connection to the subject matter more readily. It opens doors to discussions about not only what we know but also how we know it.
Interestingly, scholars, philosophers, and scientists would most likely agree that the majority of scientific discoveries, the results of which create the core of our knowledge about the world today, were born out of experience and experimentation rather than theoretical scrambling of facts. It was a gradual process of discovering relationships between things and events, cause and effect. After all this is precisely why we value and respect scientific disciplines; for the assumingly objective quality of their results. Why would then an educational system rely so heavily on mere accumulation of data? I find this argument quite compelling. I think both intellectual mastery and practical competence are unavoidable duties of a sound educational system. If school should fail to adhere rigorously to this principle and continue giving its students only the results of scientific