Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself...

So, my feelings on what I'm going into have shifted considerably since I started two years ago, since I've been thinking heavily about what education is and what it is for. I want to get into that, but it would probably be good to begin at the beginning, and give some background.

Back in '03 I went off to my big, Midwestern state university. I was in Engineering, but my Engineering classes never really held my interest and I flailed around a bit. Embarrassing truth time: I've never really been that good at school. I'm that jerk in class that does barely any work and gets by on natural aptitude, one of the banes of all compassionate teachers.

Anyway, one thing that did hold my interest when I got to Midwest U was swing dance. I went to the introductory dance during the first week I was there (when I had nothing better to do) and I had a really great time. So I took a bunch of their lessons and went to a bunch of their dances. So much so that one year later, while I was busy failing out of my Engineering classes after I changed my major to Philosophy after the drop date, I was teaching other new students how to dance (I was also President of the club after running unopposed).

Compressing the story some: I graduated in the spring of '08 with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Mathematics. I had a fiancee, still a fair amount of money to fall back on, and no earthly idea of what I wanted to do next. In taking inventory of my college experience, I realized that the thing I kept at all throughout, indeed the thing I would think about on my own time and strive to become better at absent any class urgings, was teaching dance. I thought of how alive I felt in front of a class, or with a student I was tutoring, and I realized that was what I should try to do. Of course, I was well out of Midwest U at that point, so while I wrestled with the idea of having to go to more school, I took a job as a substitute teacher to see whether I was really up for it.

The job of substitute teacher is really a terrible one. You get nearly no training and they throw you into a classroom by yourself with 26 kids that you've never met before, and try to get them to do whatever filler assignment that the teacher thought you wouldn't screw up. That said, I had a really good time and learned a lot during my year as a sub. I learned that, as a dude that doesn't know anything, I really preferred working with the special ed classrooms since I was never the sole authority.

Anyway, when I got to the education classes of U of Midwest (different than Midwest U), I was unique in that I was the old guy and I already had been in front of all sorts of students. I already knew teaching was for me, I just needed the certificate to get an in with the biggest teaching game in town. I hadn't really thought about the issues around education, I had just thrown myself in headfirst after something I loved.

Since then, I've thought a great deal about education, public education specifically, and I've realized something that's troubled me ever since. I know longer know what public education is for. Sitting in the back of my head is that kid that asks, "Why are we learning this? When am I ever going to use this?" I don't have a good answer for that kid. The standard answer of, "It will help you do well in college so you can get a good job," is the least satisfying answer possible, especially since whatever that kid is scribbling in the margin of a notebook is more likely to be relevant to his or her future career than whatever I'm telling them. I don't know what the ideal outcome of a high school education is supposed to be. Right now it's essentially a stamp of marginal competence, and that seems so small and sad to me. How many years of a kid's life have to be spent waiting to do something interesting, something real?

Because this is a blog, I'll end with a link to a relevant XKCD comic.

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