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Education vs. School

Part one of a never-ending story.

When I Googled ‘education definition’, I was given a number of definitions meaning pretty much the same thing, but two of them leapt out at me:

  1. the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction.

  2. an enlightening experience.

Two very different definitions of the same noun.

So, let’s start at the very beginning (it’s a very good place to start).

"The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction."

I think this is how most people understand education. Essentially, you go to school; you are given instructions and information; you remember those instructions and information; you then recite that information as per the instructions and are rewarded for correctness. Rinse and repeat at increasing levels of difficulty until you’ve reached the point at which you want to be and BAM! You are educated! Congratulations! Go get a job!

And throughout this process you are rewarded for reciting the correct information as per the instructions; or you are punished for being unable to recite the information as per the instructions.

  • Can’t remember all the information verbatim? Punished.

  • Can’t recite the information quickly enough? Punished.

  • Can’t recite the information exactly as per the instructions? Punished.

  • Worked out your own way of organising the information? Punished.

  • Been a little bit creative with the information? Punished.

The list goes on… You either do exactly what you are told to do in the exact way you are told to do so, or you are… you guessed it… Punished! The idea seems to be that every person must be educated in exactly the same way without deviation in order to be correctly educated.

But, you see, that is not education. Well, it is, but it’s a 19th century attitude towards education. Ask any schoolkid if they actually like going to school (in any century) and I can almost guarantee that the vast majority of them will say, “No.” Why? Because a) it’s not a fun place to spend your time and b) it’s boring. And it is. Remember?

But it wasn’t always like that.

Before they ever set foot inside a school, children love learning. They are like little information sponges. They want to know everything. What’s that? Why? What does it do? Why? How does it work? Why? That is education. In fact, that is the second definition of education I mentioned earlier. That is not receiving systematic instruction. That is enlightenment. That is discovery. That is learning about the world around you.

And that is what every single person should be like for their entire life. Hungry for understanding. Just like a child.

And then they go to school. And after a couple of years of that, they hate education.

The question is: how did we manage to make education - something so absolutely fundamental and something we obviously love - so unpleasant?

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