(In the original draft of this post, I started an all-out war on the whole concept of education, claiming that teaching is no longer necessary because the Internet allows us to self-learn everything. My editorSherry calmly spread a bucket of cold water pointing out that A.I. won’t be be able to teach us how to dance, to drive, or to learn in the beginning. Right. So here’s a more reasonable version.)
If learning should be about knowing who we are first and foremost, why can’t teaching follow the same path? No matter how advanced the Internet (or Apple’sSiri) becomes, there is one question that will remain unanswered:What should students do with their lives?.
Obviously the “Who am I?” question isn’t a priority during our childhood phases. First of all we need to learn to survive, and that’s where the traditional educational system plays a huge role: letting students learn bits of everything so that they can walk on their own feet in this society. It’s also pure fun: every day is filled with discovery during this period. A majority of us have happy memories of our primary education because it was a time when we were expanding our possibilities and our bags of hopes for the future.
But when the secondary education kicks in, something funny happens. We suddenly become anxious, disengaged, and frustrated. We become seriously confused about everything and we no longer enjoy what we used to enjoy. Physically we are entering the puberty period, and mentally a monster called self-consciousness has started to consume us. As our bodies go through dramatic changes, our souls also demand to grow up, forcing us to think outside the box to reframe who we are and what we should do.
Yet during the students’ transitional period, the educational system starts offering exactly the opposite of what’s needed: it begins narrowing the options down. From secondary education on, learning shifts away from broadening the students’ horizons and starts to focus on one objective: maximizing the possibility of future employment. But practically, how many of us would be living a life that was prescribed during teenage days and still be happy? A majority of us end up “de-educating” ourselves to find our true calling long after we officially graduate from schools.
Obviously something is missing. I believe it is the process of “discovering” our identity during the crucial adolescence phase, instead of “picking” one from ready-made options. In the past, universities (accidentally) provided that opportunity by allowing students to indulge in an identity crisis during the brief responsibility-free period. I see this as a necessary process, even if not a productive one in economic terms. It’s time for the educational system, i.e. teachers, to formally assimilate the lost-and-found period into the overall process.
How? By helping students see who they are, when they lose their identity earlier in their lives. Teachers show students their supposed goals: the finishing point. It’s time to reverse the trend and show the starting point, which is the students themselves. We humans are not designed to look inward (eyeballs face outward, for example) and it’s always easier for someone else to tell us if we are doing well or not. Teachers can encourage students to listen internally and observe if they are following their own voices.
That’s it. Students are not going to work to where they should go. They are going to work from where they are now. Also in this post-industrial era, how a person handles that question determines the quality of his life. Make no mistake, teachers still can’t (and shouldn’t) answer the question of identity. But they can assist. In this sense, they’re not “teach”ers any more. They are going to be “assist”ants. And proudly so.
Some dude called William Arthur Ward leftthe following words which are quoted by many, many people.
The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.
Self-discovery belongs to the “inspiring” category—so Mr. Ward would agree that assisting students to find themselves is the job of great teachers.