There is a sequence of questions we must go through when approaching the issue of education.
First of all, What is the purpose of education to begin with?
Actually, we can't answer this question on its own. We need to realize that the education system is just one organ within the larger system of society. Thus, we must first ask . . .
What is the purpose of society?
It is my belief that the rightful purpose of society is to maximize the collective happiness. The goal of society should be for as many of its members as possible to live the happiest possible lives.
So if this is the goal, what role can the education system play in this?
The education system ought to do everything in its power to promote the collective happiness of society.
How can it do this?
#1 The education system can directly boost happiness levels by organizing activities that students find enjoyable. (Process)
#2 The education system can facilitate the development of the skills, knowledge, and character traits that lead to an optimally happy society. (Preparation)
How exactly do you suggest a school go about accomplishing these goals?
On the process side, it is clear that learning that is led by a student's intrinsic motivation will be much more enjoyable. Moreover, intrinsically motivated learning also tends to be deeper and retained longer. It's common sense that if you really care about something, you're going to invest more time, creativity, and sheer effort into it. This in turn results in greater insights and more solidly constructed memories.
But a student cannot pursue her intrinsic passions and curiosities within any environment. An education system must maintain enough flexibility to accommodate the diverse passions, curiosities, and learning preferences of the student body.
Ok, so this all may sound very good and dandy, but it brings up a big practical question: How do we reconcile the needs for order and authority with those for flexibility and freedom?
If we allow students to study whatever they please, they might skip over essential knowledge. Moreover, how could a school possibly manage to provide a personalized curriculum for each student? How could a teacher teach a course if each student wants to learn something different?
There is no single answer to these challenging questions. Instead there is an entire spectrum of answers. I don't believe that there is one system that is best. I believe that some systems are a better fit for some students. Moreover, I believe that any system that largely disregards the will of the students in the name of the almighty standards or of the order imperative, will end up with results that are not only ineffective, but also immoral.
So, yes, challenges will arise in the quest for a student-centered education model, but these are challenges of imagination that can be overcome.
If it seems like we're done, we're not.
If intrinsic motivation and flexibility are two of the three pillars of excellent education, wisdom is the third. An educational institution develops this third pillar by exposing students to the big questions: “What matters?” “Where do right and wrong come from?” “What's the meaning of life?” Through serious engagement with questions like these, students will develop the values and perspective that will give their lives direction and purpose. With a real sense of purpose, students can then shape their educational pathway with intention and begin to engage in learning at a greater depth of meaningfulness.
If this third pillar of wisdom is effectively integrated into the educational model, students will not only be joyful and engaged in their learning, but also well on the path to developing into responsible, moral, and self-determining human beings. In this way, they will not only be preparing for a life of individual fulfillment, but also for one of ethical engagement with the world that will contribute toward the betterment of society as a whole.
So what should have the students learned by the end?
Specific content knowledge is not nearly as important as the development of certain key competencies. At the end of the day, we want our students to be well on their way to attaining the following fundamentals to a fulfilling life:
The ability to earn a living doing work one is intrinsically motivated to do and which one finds deeply meaningful.
Maintenance of physical and mental health.
A robust network of flourishing social relationships.
Emotional control and advanced interpersonal communication skills.
Additionally, since the ultimate purpose of an educational institution is contribution to the wellbeing of society as a whole, we also want our students to have made significant progress toward the following fundamentals to an ethical life:
A commitment to living with integrity.
A sense of duty to treat others fairly.
An intrinsic desire to contribute to the fulfillment of others.
This concludes the basic fundamentals of what's needed to build a school that will prepare both the individual and society to thrive. However, if you still feel the need for some more concrete details, there's no need to worry, I added the next section just for you!
Here is a quick and dirty Q&A list that delves into the finer details of what I consider to be
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What are engaging forms of learning that respect and bring out the full potential in students?
Student-directed projects, authentic bi-directional dialogue (NOT the “answer the teacher's questions” game), Socratic questioning, small group discussions, student-led seminars, traditional seminars (if teacher can facilitate w/o dominating)
What are the common elements of engaged learning?
Intriguing questions, customizability, problem solving, discovery, relevance, challenge, connection to other ideas, depth in understanding
What are ineffective pedagogies?
* Forcing students to read stuff and answer questions they have no interest in.
* Teaching for memorization rather than understanding. (For example, devoting class time to going over the procedure for solving a math problem rather than engaging in the question of why the math works that way.)
What precisely is the mindset that the teacher ought to have?
(See first question on this list.)
What does a teacher with the right mindset need to succeed?
Freedom, small classes.
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Are you wanting some actual examples of what this actually looks like in the field?
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