Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Relevance of Education

One of the topics I discussed in my presentation, "Lifelong Literacy and the Changing Face of Reading," is relevance. 

Our society today recognizes that education is a must...but almost as an item on a checklist...something we just have to suffer through...the end product, the diploma is the most important thing...not the education/knowledge a student receives somewhere in the middle.

I do not agree.
Are you shocked? ;)

Today's society does not see true relevance in an education.
We, teachers are partly to blame for that.
Yes, I did just say that.

As a professional devlopment provider I've met many teachers, especially content specific specialists, who've given up on relevance and just teach the content.
They tell me daily, "I have to cover the content; that is my job."

My response to that is...
"What good is covering the content if nobody is learning anything??"

Relevance means "the relation of something to the matter at hand"
"When am I ever going to write a research paper again?" 
"When am I ever going to work algebraic equations in my life?" (never, I hope ;)

Our students, and the rest of the world, for that matter, misunderstand what's going on in our classrooms (or what should be going on in our classrooms).
Comp I, for example, the first college level transfer writing course students on our campus have to take, is not just about writing essays.


The essay itself is the end result of reading, thinking, analyzing, evaluating, strategizing, making decisions, logically justifying your opinions and then communicating all of those things through writing.

Even in an algebra class (I'm sweating profusely even as I type this thinking back to my days in algebra classes)...the symbols and numbers have abstract meanings all their own that the student must decipher...the student must evaluate the information given, make decisions about which formulas to use or steps to follow given that information (more logic) and try not to go crazy, as was in my case, as he/she makes the wrong decisions and has to evaluate and find the mistakes :)

The knowledge/skills that our students should be getting in our classes is the kind of knowledge they can take with them.  It is so not just about covering the content. 

My parents were very young, working class Mississippians. 
No one in their families had ever gone to college and they seemed to be following in the footsteps of all those before them when I arrived.

But, somehow they wanted out.
They wanted a better life.
So, they went out to find it.

They found the road to a better life on the campus of Mississippi State University.
They lived in married student housing and scraped by every single day of their lives.  They wanted education; they had to work for it; they had to sacrifice for it. 
My dad completed his first degree, and as you can tell by the picture below, I was always expected to be a college graduate. 

I was expected to get a college education because my parents experienced firsthand its relevance. 

My job as a teacher is to make sure that my students are learning, regardless of the content I cover. 
There is no classroom or teacher on any campus anywhere that can teach students everything they need to know for the rest of their lives.

A student who truly learns something in class will then take that knowledge and be able to use it in a variety of ways, for a variety of purposes, academic related or not, and most importantly out into the world after they leave our classes.

THAT is relevance.



  1. Ugh, math. You're right though - even if we never use it again the process of learning to learn and problem solve is invaluable. Wise words!

  2. So true....I feel that learning whatever the material in the course is, no matter what 'level' takes a backseat to learning HOW TO THINK. School should be foremost about Critical Thinking. If you can't think you can't function. If you can think you can conquer most anything, even math. ;-)

    When did our society decide that learning ends in school? Learning should be a lifelong goal. You stop wanting to learn, you need to just lay down and wait for the gravedigger to fold you under into this Earthly Garden.

  3. We never stop learning! Great post. And I love the pictures of your parents.

  4. You have a great list going in your sidebar - I'm glad I stopped over to take a peek. Thanks for joining in the Giving Thanks challenge this month. I pray you were blessed because of it! =)

    - Leah

  5. I am new to your blog, Patti, and it looks great! I loved your post on the relevance of education - it is so insightful! I liked very much your observation - "What good is covering the content if nobody is learning anything??" It is sad that today the focus has shifted from learning to getting good grades and getting a diploma / degree. It is sad because grades / diplomas / degrees are no substitute for real learning. I feel that both the students (and parents) and teachers should realize that.