The real role of education

I like to cause trouble. Or at least that is what some people think. It’s because I enjoy change and improvement and also developing my own teaching and understanding. One situation where this was a problem was at uni when I had to write a mini essay on:

What is the best age for children to start learning a language at school?

Now, the reading had included the basics on the Critical Learning Period which states that after 12 L2s are harder. This was the reading but I didn’t agree. Why? Well, because there is also evidence, my own education and teaching experience too, that children are psychologically aware enough to become ‘good learners’. Yes, they may have the capacity to soak up 2/3/4 languages but they may also just end up with a mess of all of them. Not to mention the fact that kids shouldn’t be spending their time learning how to say the limited things they can say in another language and so ending up learning and knowing different words in each.

Anyhow, 12 years old is when kids go to high school and then 2 years later select what they want to study for GCSEs and then A Levels etc. In my opinion, yes I agree that some kids can learn lots of languages before but having the choice at 12 to start formal language training is beneficial. By then they are mentally aware and have opinions and things to say, they also have study tools and won’t get bored like someone who started Spanish at 5 and by 12 still can’t speak well.

And so in my mini essay I put what I thought and justified it. The response? Fail, please rewrite using the course reading. Translation: Just repeat what it says in the book and you’ll pass!!

This isn’t my idea of fostering thinking, reflection, critical ideas and mature teachers.

After this event I stopped causing problems and jumped through the hoops. I kept my opinions to myself except in group discussions but I’m convinced that this isn’t what we should be doing as teachers or students.

In my own classes I try to avoid closed questions and finite answers. Any answer is valid IF it’s supported. Any opinion is allowed and praised if it is substantial and honest. Any criticism is taken on board if it is worthy and there is an opportunity to refute it. It is this battle of ideas and arguments that I find fruitful as eventually the truth or an understanding emerges.

It’s my opinion that too many exercises and classes focus on restraining students into doing certain things and giving certain responses. This creates a sense of safety and allows measurable objectives to be met.

This is not what I want. I seek dynamism, exploration and action. Jumping through hoops doesn’t foster it.


13 thoughts on “The real role of education

    • Exactly! There lies the problem. That’s what puts me off DELTA module 1, too many closed questions. I don’t like learning like a robot and then just repeating things at commands. Education, particularly teacher ed, should be about creativity and adapting lessons not categorising everything and constricting everyone. Maybe we should take a leaf out of pre-schools and set general themes and record lesson segments then look at who achieved what with individual attainment boards/books.

  1. a truely liberated/liberating education will always clash against the staus quo. for some reason your post reminds me of a story about a really great uni teacher of mine that i heard about a few years after i had graduated. a new head of department was making the rounds of the staff offices and saw one room where this ex-teacher of mine had installed a mini climbing wall on one side of his office, a few months later the guy was looking for a new job. :/

    • Sounds interesting. there’s a school next door that has a huge climbing wall and kids go up and down it every day. Whether this helps their class learning is unsure but I presume they are judged by how high they get or how low and not on their skill development or personal goals.

      In several schools and Unis I’ve seen MCQ take over every test because they are quantifiable and not open to argument. There’s still a lot of translation in France but even that is debatable, particularly as the French love their Language.

  2. I’m quite shocked that at uni you would be failed on that assignment. Obviously there is no categorical right answer to this question, and you should be allowed to answer in any way you like, including refuting the “required readings”, provided you construct a clear and well-supported argument. Any educational institution walks a fine line between telling people what to think and helping people find their own voice, and perhaps teachers/tutors fall on either one side or the other of that line too, according to their preference, self-image, beliefs about teaching/learning etc. Anyway thanks for a thought-provoking post ๐Ÿ™‚ PS: DELTA’s not like that, don’t be ย put off.

    • Cheers Sophia,

      I think it had a lot to do with the ease of marking perhaps. I di enjoy the dissertation though, as I liked the DELTA EA. There I could put forward my ideas and support that. That was great but why can’t we have more of that and not just at the end of a course?

      • My MA does usually *try* to squeeze in some practical personalized applications somewhere but overall the theme seems to be: here’s a s#%^load of information, synthesize it. Often seems to be a huge divide between ELT academics and practitioners…

        • Yes, been there.After I finished I had so much STUFF in my head it took months to filter through it and see what was actually useful. I’m still at it.

  3. Nothing (course-wise) and no one’s perfect but I find it hard to believe you were failed for your disputing the theory (unless you didn’t support your arguments). I actively encourage my students to be critical of everything they read – but they always have to support what they say with some reliable theory/research. And as far as age for learning languages is concerned – there’s so much theory (brain/cognitive research, psychological etc etc) out there and quite simply it now more or less boils down to whether you want to learn the language with native accent or just learn the language.

    Incidentally – I find the essay question you were given a bit peculiar – why do they restrict themselves to ‘at school’ and do they mean foreign, second, high-low prestige…. I could go on (you can probably tell I, too was a very critical, demanding student!). ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Yep. I got 30% and I was told to rewrite it ‘using the course literature’. I guess they thought I hadn’t understood what I’d read and was just saying what I thought as opposed to reading, understanding and disagreeing with it. If I’d had more space I could’ve written along explanation but this was a short piece.

      • so taking initiative and looking up other sources is not a good thing….hmm really, I mean, imagine making your lecturers actually have to keep abreast of what’s out there. You really are asking a bit much you know ;-). No wonder you failed!

        • Well, until I did essays and quoted blogs and new articles. That blew people’s minds as reading lists are always full of old books, same on the DELTA. You can understand it though as it costs money to constantly have up-to-date teaching materials and references. Yet, if you use the web it’s not that difficult maybe.

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