Sunday, January 31, 2016

All Learning Doesn't Have Equal Value

Goulet Pens, where I buy and where I learn.
My newest hobby is journaling with fountain pens. I jumped in pretty heavily last fall and have bought several pens and different inks to use. I have watched weeks worth of videos, and that is not hyperbole! I bought a few journals and have been writing about my day for over a month and  half (and even bought a Fuji instant camera to take teeny instant pictures I can put in my journal.)

I don't know if this hobby will last for years, but I am really enjoying it now. That's the thing about stuff we in education label 'passion projects', they are very important while we are passionate but the love may not last a lifetime. I acknowledge that even as I pay both money and mental capital into it. But, what do I get from this learning? It makes me happy.

As an educator my business is understanding learning. While being a teacher implies the transfer of specific content knowledge from us to students, I prefer to think of it on a more basic level. We help kids learn things they otherwise might not choose to learn. Kids can (and do) learn at a high level when they want to learn. (Sometimes I wonder if educators forget this.) There is very little transferable content area learning that is taking place with my new hobby. I suspect that would mean many educators would see this hobby as relatively valueless in my classroom. I won't argue that point, because it isn't relevant.

Simply put, the fact that I am learning is enough. When I choose to share what I am learning with my students, and you know it happens because no one can keep something they are passionate about private (unless it is a taboo subject), my students see me excited about something other than the curriculum I teach. There is no real, intrinsic value to them in watching me share in terms of picking up new content knowledge. They won't become better geographers or historians because I let them borrow my fountain pens to write with. Heck, they probably are more interested in how the pens write than what they are putting on the page so it might even keep them from learning a fact or two. I guess that means that my hobby could in fact be keeping them from gaining as much content knowledge. So, some might say that my hobby is less than valueless, that it inhibits learning.

The real problem here is not that kids are not learning the content schools require of them, it isn't even that they reject learning what we teach passionately (because it is our thing!) The real problem is we make a value judgement that what they want to learn is less valuable than what we want to teach them. The thing is, in our culture that might be a very true statement. There is specific content knowledge, specific skills, and specific levels of competency based upon certifications. When it comes to jobs, all learning does not have equal value.

Of course, one does have to make the assumption that ultimate goal of learning is getting a good job and not living happily. 


  1. Hey William, commenting on this post for two reasons.

    1. To let it be known that commenting is still alive and well :)
    2. I believe you said something profound

    "The real problem is we make a value judgement that what they want to learn is less valuable than what we want to teach them. The thing is, in our culture that might be a very true statement."

    Love this story about your own dive into a hobby and interest. It's what all of us do (as learners) all the time. It may be a video game, minecraft, new sport, making a beverage, learning to cook, or programming a website. Or it could sketchnoting, knitting, sewing, or blogging.

    We tend to follow our interests and let our curiosity drive our learning until we are no longer curious. That's when either a true purpose takes over, or our passion fizzles out.

    My question to you is, even if our culture respects and holds the teacher-driven content higher than the student-driven content...does that mean it is okay? Does that mean we should accept it as, "oh well, our culture wants kids to know this, so they should know this"? And is that just one sub-cultures beliefs among many?

    Good thoughts as always.

    1. AJ, rarely does what is right replace what is. I think many of us work to encourage our students to do more than what the expectations of school are, but I don't think that in most schools there is much opportunity for kids to do more.

      I do believe that we create community and shared culture by creating shared learning experiences. I am a big fan of creating pathways of shared learning through our curriculum and I would love that they be world wide, and not relegated to a district or a state. That being said, I also believe that schools are in a unique position to offer students a lot of opportunities to go off on tangents. After all we have (theoretically) more tools than the kids do at home. What we need is to give students both shared learning experiences and time and tools to explore their own learning experiences. Also, thanks for the comment ;)