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September 30, 2010 / Jenny Ann Fraser

Surviving My Education

Today, for some reason, the subject of education keeps coming up. You know how it is. First I read a Freshly Pressed blog post about someone’s idea of what kids should learn in school, because it looked more interesting than work.

Then about 30 4th graders head down the hall from their drama class to use the washrooms, which are right next to my shop. I do love it when we have groups of children at our drama school. I love the energy and enthusiasm that they bring to the space even though I don’t often get to interact with them. I thought that they might actually make my ears bleed today, but that didn’t happen until the teacher came down the hall and began screaming at them to be quiet. (All I could do to express myself here is a long row of question marks?)

Then, I came across a news article about how Oprah upset teachers all over America with this past Monday’s show which was all about the sad state of education in the US and apparently didn’t favour teachers.

I happen to have this weird passion about education and a lot of opinions about how much it basically sucks and what needs to be done to fix it.

I say that my passion is weird because despite the fact that I originally wanted to be a high-school band teacher, I really don’t see myself as a person who would ever be able to do anything about education, except to bitch about it. And in all fairness, I got tired of listening to myself bitch years ago.

That said, I recently realized that despite all that school didn’t teach me, like how to learn, that learning is the best and most fun thing ever, and that I am actually intelligent… I turned out OK in the end.

My high-school had a really crappy band program, but we still had a band program, and learning music was certainly one of my most important life-changing experiences. If it weren’t for music, I don’t think I ever would have believed that I could succeed at anything.

Yes, we were probably the worst band in the lowest level of all the bands at the city-wide band competition each year. After 4, 5, and 6 years of playing together we made it to a very poor grade 3 Royal Conservatory level. That made it a bit boring, and more than a little embarrassing for me, but still, it was far more interesting than English, Math, Science, Social Studies, French or History.

Plus, there was my high-school vocational program where I learned the basic skills required for a career in the fashion industry. Band, Fashion Technology and my friends made high-school a lot of fun. Which is good, because I suspect that if it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t have bothered going.

I graduated with honours, largely due to insanely high marks in the subjects I cared about. I am literate, can do math with a calculator, and am a self-proclaimed expert at converting linear measurements back and forth between metric and imperial. In case you’re wondering why that is, it is because we were taught only in metric in school, and 23 years later, I still don’t work with anyone who works in metric. If I want to communicate, I have to be bilingual.

All in all, I figured out how to learn anything I need to learn, am in love with doing that and finally figured out that I’m intelligent. (This took years to sink in after the IQ test results came in, because of course, you have to believe it.)

I have two fully functioning halves to my brain because the right side just won’t stop despite a system that doesn’t believe it has much value.

Yep, I am fully functioning and whole, despite my education.

Which brings me to what I think about what needs to happen in a tiny nutshell, because anything more would turn into a book that I am not qualified to write.

I think we need to stop talking and debating about what information students need to be taught. It seems completely pointless.

We have no idea what will be needed in the future, we never really have. If we did, I would not have been taught pattern drafting in metric only… hello.

The world is moving faster and faster all of the time and I don’t see how it will slow down.

Technology, climate change, economic systems that cannot survive on a planet that is running out of resources… we need to be teaching kids how to learn and how to figure things out for themselves so that they have a chance both to survive, and to be able to find solutions to the mess that we’re leaving them.

Educators need to be more concerned about brain development than what students can memorize and regurgitate. Data, can be accessed from most cell phones in seconds so why do we need to memorize the major economic activities of geographical locations? Especially since those answers will change.

Yes, it is important that we learn how to memorize some things. Everything about the brain is use-it-or-lose-it and it needs to be worked. But let’s make it interesting, relevant and useful shall we?

It seems to me that so many parents care only about grades and Universities so that their kids can get good jobs, but as a citizen of the world, I am more concerned with teaching kindness and compassion and how to think in ways that can incorporate the BIG picture. A feat that cannot be done without development of the right hemisphere. If you are unable to consider how you live your life in regards to how it affects everyone and everything… what is the point? And what kind of future do we have?

I know that these systems are changing constantly, and vary from school to school, never mind between regions and countries, but I know from my reading, and wonderful conversations with dedicated educators, that many believe that we need a complete overhaul of the system. The answers don’t lie in a back to basics one-size-fits-all approach. It is complicated, and difficult, but that doesn’t mean impossible. Failing might mean to fail the future entirely.

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22 Comments

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  1. Kathy / Sep 30 2010 11:22 am

    oh boy you hit a nerve here! In my opinion, our education system in the US is a mess. I happen to coach some educators. I hear of their trials and aggravation. I have always had a passion for education and, like you, for learning. In high school I read books about Maria Montessori, also Summerhill. I championed other forms of education. I ended up teaching music privately. I can’t imagine having to deal with a system as bloated and mis-directed as what we have now. I know we have some really talented educators standing in front of the class room with their hands tied and pocket books strapped. We don’t pay teachers enough. All focus is on test scores. There is no understanding of wholeness or how the arts teach our brains to learn more efficiently, even though there is plenty of research to prove it.

    I think the system is crumbling along with other outdated systems and structures from the Industrial Era. As with any crumbling system, rather than vision what’s new and move toward building that, most people scramble to shore up the crumbling structure. It doesn’t stop the crumbling it just makes it take longer and is agonizingly painful. Look around. It’s happening everywhere.

    It’s not easy to live in times like these with so much uncertainty and so little vision. My guess is that the work most needed now is at the level of loving ourselves and each other through it. To rise to our true magnificence of our essential Divine nature. Rather than try to put back the pieces of a structure or system that no longer serves us, we can vision new ones that will meet us at the consciousness level we are growing into. Love and courage required.

    Thanks Jenny – you always get me thinking!

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Sep 30 2010 2:26 pm

      Wow Kathy!
      I am amazed at how aligned our thinking is. You however have said it all so much better. Of course, I am in Canada, but still, same problems.
      You are so right about the lack of vision right now. I think that is what scares me most about what we’re not teaching in schools…
      So thank you! Together, we can set our own brains on fire. 😛

  2. mommylebron / Sep 30 2010 11:42 am

    And this is why I love teaching preschool. I am present at critical times of brain development and have the honor of affecting the future. I take great pleasure in discovering children’s different learning styles and teaching them *how* to learn. We can focus on recycling (for instance) without worrying that we should be prepping for some test or another! This is also why I work so much with my own kids. I teach them about being resourceful, recycling, and so much more.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Sep 30 2010 2:27 pm

      I teach them about being resourceful, recycling, and so much more. ..

      and the world will be a better place because of it. Sigh, if only everyone would get that times are changing and we can never move backwards. Nor should we want to.
      Thank you and all other dedicated teachers for the work that you do.

  3. bet365 / Oct 2 2010 9:19 am

    how are you!This was a really splendid post!
    I come from china, I was fortunate to come cross your theme in baidu
    Also I obtain a lot in your blog really thank your very much i will come again

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 13 2010 3:19 pm

      Hello, and welcome!
      I am honored to hear that you are enjoying the blog! Please stop by again!

  4. Ollin / Oct 3 2010 6:32 pm

    I was a tutor, then a substitute teacher, and then a theater teacher, and I am so sick of it that I’m literally not going back. You have to, I mean have to LOVE and have a PASSION for teaching or else you just cannot survive. It is a public service, no doubt. Teachers are selfless egoless people, I tell you, to have to deal with a society that under-appreciates them, demanding parents, and know-it all kids who are increasingly empowered and made to feel entitled but are not made to feel responsible for their actions or the things they say.

    It’s too huge of an issue for me to comment on. Teaching was just not for me.

    I love that now I am writing. My life is more fulfilling now, even though I’m a lot more broke, hehe. 🙂

    Hey Jenny, I also want to ask if you would do me the honor of writing a guest post for me. You always write inspiring posts and I think that my readers would really appreciate learning something from you and your perspective. You can reach me through my contact page on my blog. Let me know if you would be interested. Thank you! 🙂

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 4 2010 9:20 am

      Hi Ollin
      I have several friends who are passionate teachers and i hear everything you are saying. Both about needing to have a passion for teaching and the fact that teachers are over-worked, under-paid and under-appreciated.
      I think that is a really important part of the whole education discussion. Another thing that has to be overhauled if we are going to fix things.

  5. Shiona / Oct 4 2010 3:47 am

    I spent 11 years of my life and an immeasurable amount of nerve and energy teaching English as a foreign language at secondary school.
    Teaching is not merely a job; it’s a vocation, a calling. Gradually the system in my country has become so wrong and so vile that it simply puts off even great enthusiasts. I was always recognized for being a good teacher, for having the patience and the right approach to adolescent students, for being able to differentiate between students’ needs and styles of learning. And yet, I never felt in place. I couldn’t put up with all the falsehood and disgusting formalities that only caused us to dissipate our endeavours and prevented us from focusing on the main objective of our being part of the system – to educate. I couldn’t put up with all the obsoleteness and meaninglessness of tasks we were regularly required to fulfill that had nothing to do with the education process. But the most insulting aspect of working as a teacher was the contemptuous attitude of society as towards people who do nothing of value but nonetheless continuously complain and have all sorts of pretences. Teachers are so underestimated, underpaid and humiliated here that I had to run away in order to save myself from going insane.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 5 2010 7:40 am

      Hi Shiona,
      That is a sad story. One that I’ve heard all too often. We really don’t seem to give teachers the respect they deserve anywhere. It is truly sad how we allow those in probably the most important profession reach burn out.

  6. Chris Edgar / Oct 7 2010 9:20 pm

    Ooh, I’ve never met someone who was mathematically bilingual before! Reading this reminded me of how fortunate I was to receive an unconventional, “New-Agey” education at an alternative form of private school, where we called the teachers by their first names, learned to meditate and received written reports rather than grades. I think it has given me the unique perspective on the world I now get to enjoy.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 9 2010 10:23 am

      Wow Chris!
      I didn’t know that such schools existed. I imagine that would really give you a unique perspective on life.
      LOL at the mathematically bilingual… Come to Canada, You’re sure to find many more of us. 🙂

  7. Andrea DeBell - britetalk / Oct 7 2010 11:30 pm

    Hi Jenny Ann! Since there is so much information at the fingertips of kids nowadays, we need to teach them how to think and solve problems instead of remembering information. Any information we need to know is available on the internet, no need to memorize. We serve our future generation better by teaching them how to work together and think critically about the world around them. Just a thought…

    Thanks for your wonderful post. Loving blessings!

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 9 2010 10:26 am

      HI Andrea,
      You hit the nail on the head with that one. As Kathy Loh said in her comment, we have to stop working to shore up the crumbling structure. We don’t need it and it won’t serve. I guess the point is to have these conversations and hope that these ideas catch on.

  8. Tess The Bold Life / Oct 8 2010 8:30 am

    We are blessed to have someone like you who cares! My daughter was telling me that my granddaughter was complaining about how nobody else on the swim team showed up to volunteer at an event, Shelly replied, “Mackenzie, I don’t care what anyone else does. We’re taking the high road.
    She is such a great mom and is so dedicated to their lives, growth and school work. Mac is getting her gold award in Girl Scouts and AJ is working towards his Eagle Award in Boy Scouts. You remind me of her.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 9 2010 10:27 am

      Thank you Tess!
      I hope that as time goes on, more and more will recognize the benefits of caring, and speaking out and doing what’s right.
      You must have been a pretty amazing Mom yourself!

  9. hannahkaty / Oct 10 2010 4:15 pm

    I just saw “Searching for Superman” yesterday and it immediately popped into my head in reading this post.. It did not favor teachers at all… But I am always so thankful for the teachers out there who really put their time and energy into this world and their students.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 12 2010 11:13 am

      Hi Hannah,
      Thanks for stopping by.
      I think that putting any blame on teachers is the wrong way to go. It is the system that is broken and that is not something that teachers really have much power to fix no matter how dedicated they are, and many of them are truly dedicated, for which we should be thankful.

  10. J.D. Meier / Oct 21 2010 8:47 pm

    > a book that I am not qualified to write
    I bet you’d surprised yourself.

    > interesting, relevant and useful
    Right on.

    If I couldn’t change the education system, then I would at least add on a thin layer of key skills to equip students to deal with an ever-changing world … to go from surviving to thriving:
    – Executive thinking skills
    – Creative thinking skills
    – Emotional intelligence
    – Interpersonal Skills
    – Communication Skills
    – Self-Awareness
    – Motivation Skills
    – Learning / Memory skills
    – Problem-Solving Skills
    – Project Management Skills

    I’ve been surprised by how many people that are really good at these things had parents that were really good at these things.

    There’s still a huge gap between the state of the art and the state of the practice. I believe Edward de Bono was able to teach kids how to use their minds like adults by teaching them to direct their attention.

    There’s a world of possibilities. Disney and Jimmeny Cricket taught me to wish upon a star, but folks like Bill Gates and Bruce Lee taught me to ask way better questions to make the most of work and life.

    I only wish somebody gave me a better playbook when I started.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Oct 21 2010 9:26 pm

      Hello JD
      I have suddenly received a gift from the Universe in exactly the right time in the form of you stopping by and leaving such an intelligent comment! I love all of your ideas as they are truly important. I can’t imagine how any of them could ever lose relevance in this world.
      I briefly checked out your site and can’t wait to spend some more time with it.
      And finally,
      “a book that I am not qualified to write
      I bet you’d surprised yourself.
      interesting, relevant and useful
      Right on.”

      It would be a blog post in and of itself, (And who knows? It just might be…) as it came in exactly the right moment. The 2nd of two instances in an hour where I have been encouraged to keep writing. (Not that I was ever entertaining the thought of not writing.)
      So, Thank you. I have been truly gifted today!

  11. broadsideblog / Nov 17 2010 6:58 am

    Great post. I think JD’s ideas are excellent.

    Only years after graduating university did I take a battery of psychological tests and discovered (not to my surprise) that traditional ‘learning’ (i.e. sit still for hours, shut up and listen) is not my best option. I graduated U of Toronto, which as a fellow Canadian, you know is a very demanding school, but only when — many years later — I studied at the New York School of Interior Design — did I discover a totally different way to learn, physical, spatial and experiential. I aced most of my classes and loved the experience.

    Education has become an assembly line where everyone must learn in the the same way at the same speed, which is crazy because that’s not how we learn. I read constantly, and fairly challenging material, and miss a room filled with smart people with whom to discuss those ideas. That, for me, is education.

    But knowing how to teach yourself and handle tough new challenges? That’s what life demands of most of us.

    Most formal education sets up a student’s role as accepting authority, when learning to thoughtfully and intelligently question it is much more useful throughout one’s life, personally, politically, professionally.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Nov 17 2010 10:03 am

      What a fabulous comment! Thank you!

      “Most formal education sets up a student’s role as accepting authority, when learning to thoughtfully and intelligently question it is much more useful throughout one’s life, personally, politically, professionally.”

      I think that this has always been the case, but it is even more important to students today. Sigh, it frightens me that so few are actually getting it and fear a future where we keep raising children who can’t think for themselves or create new ideas.
      Thank you for stopping by.

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