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.