Monday, January 26, 2009

Moot and academic?

"I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing." - Neil Gaiman

I came across this quote in my student Jo's blog. Now, I'm a Gaiman fan, and though I'm a former teacher, I too subscribe to the belief that there are many, many things school does not teach a person, and that often what one learns outside the classroom is far more valuable than what are printed in textbooks or asked in exams.
But I bristled at the last line of the above quote. I'm sure Mr. Gaiman did not mean to dis formal education as a whole (he wouldn't be a world-famous author if he hadn't learned to read and write in school, would he?), but I do wish he had phrased it differently. Maybe it's also because I am a former teacher, but I think school unfairly gets a bad rap as it is, without having Gaiman dismissing it as insignificant. We have athletes who forego college for careers in pro sports, movie stars who achieve fame and fortune sans even a high school diploma, tycoons who establish business empires with nothing but a degree from the school of hard knocks... and in a push-button age where technology makes everything ridiculously easy and convenient, we are raising a generation of complacent, lazy kids who regard school as a mere chore and necessary-- if not unnecessary-- evil.

This scornful attitude toward school is increasingly apparent in students' shoddy study habits AND ethics, shockingly poor literacy and communication skills, lack of respect for teachers, and lack of respect for rules set by the administration. What's worse is that instead of pushing these youngsters harder, schools lower their standards for them, resulting in a continuously devolving educational system. They cut class hours, set gentler and kinder rules, give easier exams, curve grades, and look the other way when cheating happens. As if it's not bad enough governments worldwide don't prioritize problems involving education-- sometimes it's the educators themselves who are contributing to perpetuating the idea that school is really not such a big deal. Not when you can Google and Wikipedia everything these days.

When I was still teaching, I tried to impress on my students that in the long run, in the so-called "real world", grades won't matter. Grades don't measure intelligence, much less the real worth of a person. But I was always careful not to belittle the value of a good education. Because while it's true that some of what is taught in school is meaningless bullcrap that cannot be applied in life, the process of sifting through all that bullcrap builds character and develops skills which WILL come in handy after graduation. And like it or not, one's scholastic track record says something about a person-- that he had put in the time and effort to pass all his classes, that he had strove for self-improvement,
that he had attained growth intellectually, socially and culturally in an environment of serious study and learning.

Jo had quoted Gaiman as a reaction to "the other extreme (i.e. snooty academic types [who] look down on people without a scholastic pedigree)." I definitely agree there are those who think a couple of letters appended to their name elevate them to some sort of demigod status, and I plead guilty to scoffing at the notion that having an MA or MBA automatically makes one better equipped in his chosen field. Diplomas mean jack when one can't back them up with actual skills or concrete achievements. And an asshole with a PhD is still an asshole.

But the Gaiman quote made me realize that while higher learning may not prepare us for the truly important things in life, school still teaches us SOME stuff worth knowing. It may not seem that way to students suffering through interminable, insomnia-curing lectures and migraine-triggering tests, but in the long run, in the real world, what they pick up in school does count for something.


Post a Comment

<< Home