Educational Issues: The Search for a Better Dogma?

A distressing thing can occur in the innocent process of subjecting oneself to “getting an education.”  It is in strange and abrasive confrontation with the ideal I have always had that college, or any education, should teach one to think, not just to hold still while the teacher lays it on you.

Closure for many educational pursuits involves skillfully answering questions at the proper cue, be it test or discussion. I refer to this as “memorization and regurgitation.”

It seems that some educational theories focus around the notion of escaping the need for a dogma. For example, inquiry or discovery method, scientific approach, clinical point of view, open classroom, discussion or questioning method, even ‘new math’ and the wonderful Kagan method.

All of these concepts point meaningfully toward zeroing in on a student’s individual needs and participation in the process rather than just being fed the end results, be it facts or what we might might even call truths.

Such experiences should well equip students to travel the process of thinking when ready made ‘facts’ don’t prove to be prescriptive for their particular life situations.

This is all to be commended and I truly hope realized to greater and greater degrees in our eductional system. However, it is with some pause that I observe how such well-meaning theories don’t always come across thusly to teacher education students.

Upon talking to students from various institutions, I find that what often happens in the reality of the college classroom is that education students are told about these ideas, at which time they write it down, memorize it and God forbid, intend fully to push it off on their future students as the ‘one and only’.

Such one-sided thinking also occurs in some schools, as staff may sometimes feel pressured to conform to similar methods, even when an individual professional might know a method more suitable to the situation.

This is not because they have experienced it as meaningful but because it has now become their dogma (or should I say crutch). My functional definition for dogma in this commentary could well be a rule used to substitute for thinking.

Questions asked in some classrooms often follow a line of “which way is right?” There is little awareness that the crux of the matter lies in understanding why. We are told to make sure our future students understand the processes whereby they arrive at answers in various fields.

But at the same time it is considered almost impertinent if students don’t understand the ‘why’ of a particular rule and expect then ask consistently for clarification. It seems then, teachers may be told “not to ask why, just to do it” which echoes strongly of an earlier century in our educational heritage.

Some college students may be clued in to the idea that you don’t try to understand, you just get through it! The crying tragedy of this is that if we do not experientially own such basic precepts, we will tend to teach supposedly new methods and theories in the same dogmatic way we have all too often been taught in our past.

I sorrowfully contend that we sometimes play the new game (content wise) of choosing a supposedly new technique, but still adhere to the old rules (i.e. process). This chiefly consists of any mood or method whereby the instructor hands, albiet ever so nicely, the students the ‘facts’, and the student ‘buys’ them. This may be done not so much out of internal motivation as out of the need for survival.

It seems more suitable for the content to fit at the end of the process. What scares me a little is that as long as we memorize contents without going through any processes, we are not really a step up from the old dogmas of dunce caps, rote, and hickory sticks. I wonder if, in fact, we are only developing an updated but nonetheless blind dogma?

There is a problem of fads in education, just as in theology. We can get to a point as an educational institution where we look at the system rather than the child. Any good education is driven by the student, uplifting, setting standards and habits, rewarding progress, and after all the final reward is growth.

Yet a society can get bogged down even in the process. “Is your kid in Montessori?” “Are you reading by the colors?” “Are you utilizing medication to aid your ADD child in concentration?”

All of the above may have a place, but none is the only answer. Such thinking lurks into the danger zone of turning process into just another content. Methods and approaches can only be truly measured by whether they help a particular child–not whether they are in vogue!

It is interesting to note that people who teach content don’t receive half the recompense from society (salary, status, etc.) as do more process oriented professionals like psychologists, speech therapists, etc. Perhaps there is no need for a better dogma, but rather an eclectic approach which focuses mainly on the learner.

In our quest for a literate society, both parents and teachers would be served well by trusting their training and their instincts about any particular child’s needs.

So parents, don’t be afraid to help your child with addition as long as it’s working and no one’s suffering too much. Because adding 2 + 2 hasn’t really changed answers.

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Knowledge is a static content. Wisdom is a fluid process.

Knowledge comes and goes. Wisdom stays the same.

Copyright by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use online or in print.

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About grantutor

Career educator in both public and private schools. Has tutored all ages. Writes about education, parenting, & seniors. Sings harmony with folk/rock group and a choir. Caregiver for spouse who dealt with Stage IV cancer. Happy person committed to nature and conservation of a green world.
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