An education agenda, please! (part five)

education vs learningThe most immediate example has already been mentioned: the substitution of “learning” for “education.” While this may strike many as a small and insignificant change, in fact, in practice, its impact is profound. When “education” was the preferred term (and indeed it is still the word used in common parlance among those who are not working in the system per se), the consensus was fairly clear even if it was not as well-articulated as might be hoped. Education meant, in general terms, ensuring as much as possible a suitable (based upon age and grade level) mastery of reading, writing, mathematics, history and geography, general science and other locally preferred subjects (in New Brunswick, French language comes to mind).

As a result of the above assumption, teachers were regarded as expert in a particular subject discipline and, consequently, responsible for imparting knowledge and understanding to students. Those who oppose this traditional model, commonly picture this as a sterile process where teachers stand in front of classes, ask largely meaningless questions and demand prescriptive responses from students, and, overall, insist upon conformity at the expense of imagination, critical thinking and cogent analysis. Nothing could be further from the truth. It has always puzzled me that so many of those critical of this model have achieved a level of success that would seem to offer at least some validation of the system in which they were themselves trained. Beyond that, an entire culture that traces its roots to the time of Ancient Greece, when it looks to understand its remarkable advancement through 2 ½ millennia, should feel both profound gratitude and deep appreciation for an educational process that has made so much that is laudable possible.

The embracing of “learning” at the expense of “education”, while seemingly innocuous, represents just one more attack on the core assumption of “education” that there exists a body of knowledge not only worth acquiring but also essential to the development of critical faculties and capacities. A “Learning Agenda” wants to convince us that previous definitions of education were too narrow and limiting. The “learning” that each of us needs is not defined; rather, the concept lives and dies on the premise that learning is “lifelong” and multifaceted, far too comprehensive, in other words, to be confined to such a restrictive term as “education.” While this sounds noble and even inspiring at first glance, it does not survive careful scrutiny.


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