Rethinking the Value of Education

“Why are we doing this?  It’s hard!”  “I tried to do research but didn’t find anything after thirty minutes so I gave up.  This is too difficult.”  “Why are we reading this?  No one can understand it.”  These are the types of complaints regularly raised by students struggling through new ideas or with new types of work.  They find that their old methods for approaching their work are no longer viable. They realize that they thought they knew about a topic, but it is really larger and more complex than they imagined.  They do not understand something they read, so they are tempted to give up.  They have other commitments, other things they want to do.  So why put time into their classwork?  Why struggle when things could be made easy for them?

Sometimes it seems as if we have forgotten what school is all about.  Students sometimes seem to approach classes as if they are opportunities for the students to prove what they know, receive the “A,” and continue on through the school system.  But classes are not supposed to validate an individual’s knowledge.  Classes are supposed to teach things.  Students are assumed to be in the class precisely because they do not know about a topic or how to do certain things, but they are intending to learn.  Indeed, I would suggest that anyone taking a class on something they are already expert in, is potentially wasting their time.

If we consider classes as learning opportunities, it makes sense that students will sometimes struggle.  Learning something new is seldom easy and it often requires some failures along the way.  Good instructors know this.  They are not ignorant of the fact that students find Shakespeare difficult and sometimes indecipherable–that is why they are guiding the students through the process.  If Shakespeare were so easy anyone could read him at home and know everything there was to know, an instructor and a class would not be necessary at all.  Attending the class would again, potentially be a waste of time.

We should also keep in mind that struggle often makes something more valuable.  We should be struggling a little when we learn because that is an indication that we are acquiring specialized skills.  If doing research were as simple as typing a word into a search engine and pulling up the first couple results, anyone with Internet access could do it and students would have a difficult time marketing themselves for potential employers.  How could students be proud of accomplishing something if doing something took no effort?  How could they justify spending their time and money to take courses that did not provide them with anything valuable, either personally or professionally?

Anxiety about the economy and the competition to find jobs or to earn advanced degrees may be causing students to feel stressed out when they cannot do something quickly or when they realize that they are not achieving high grades with the ease that they used to.  However, we need to have a conversation about what education is and how it fits into students’ lives.  Education isn’t just about receiving the “A” so students can continue on to other opportunities.  Education is about earning the “A” through hard work and some failures.  It’s the hard work that makes those years of learning worth it.

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33 thoughts on “Rethinking the Value of Education

    • Krysta says:

      Sometimes it seems like that is something only acquired in hindsight. So it’s difficult on the poor teachers who never get to see their students have the aha moment! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Ravenclaw Book Club says:

    Great post! I absolutely agree. It seems like a lot of people forget that education is ultimately about learning. There is so much pressure to be amazing at everything and it makes the struggle of learning something new seem like a bad thing.

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    • Krysta says:

      In a way it’s silly. No one expects people to be perfect at EVERYTHING except when they’re in school. If you get a job, you’re allowed to be good just at your job, not everyone’s!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Students have so much pressure put on them to be excellent at everything. They think one “B” on their transcript means they will never get a job! It’s hard for them to adapt to a mindset where they are allowed to learn and not be perfect at everything.

      Like

  2. christine @ theStorySalve says:

    I 100% agree with this post, but it’s something I didn’t realize until I had left the education system. My dad has this theory that life is split into 3 parts: the learning phase, the earning phase, and the giving back phase. BUT you can be in more than one phase at a time. So I’m at this point now where I hope I never stop learning – because life is itself a learning process. Struggle is absolutely a part of that, something to be embraced. I think a big part of the problem with our attitude toward education is that grades are the educational equivalent of money. We’re supposed to go to college to earn a degree to get a better job – and if you’re like me, and went for the love of learning, you were being naive/wasting your time/etc. I’d like to see a cultural shift toward the appreciating of learning for the sake of learning, but I realize it might be a long time before that happens.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Colleges actually used to be conceived as a place for learning for the sake of learning or a place where individuals acquired culture and took time away from the world to think deeply. This shifted I would say around the 1960s when colleges became more democratized. Individuals who aren’t already independently wealthy have difficulty accepting that they are going tens of thousands of dollars into debt (I think the average US student has about 30,000 in loans) if they aren’t going to have a monetary return on the investment. Many educators continue to conceive of the university as a place of learning and don’t see it as their job to get their students jobs, but I think they are at odds with many of their students and their perception of why they are pursuing a Bachelor’s. It’s difficult to take time away from the world and think deeply when you are working two or three jobs in an attempt to pay your bills or support your family–which some students are.

      I think you’re right though that many students don’t have that moment of recognition until long after they have left class. It’s difficult to tell students “This is why you need to know this,” or “This is what will happen when you leave school” because those scenarios are worlds away from them. You can lecture all day about how citing sources correctly is important but they’re not going to get it until they’re in an environment where they understand the stakes are high. That they could get fired or ruin the reputation of their company or their field if they’re plagiarizing or being sloppy with their work. In school, students tend to realize that there typically aren’t real consequences for their actions, unfortunately.

      Liked by 1 person

      • christine @ theStorySalve says:

        I definitely think we as a country should be focusing on making higher education more accessible and less expensive, but nobody wants to talk about the fact that a bachelor’s degree is becoming the new high school diploma in our modern world. Nobody wants to talk about the fact that going to college can be such a personal growth experience, and one that I think almost everyone would benefit from if they choose to. But I do think we emphasize college for the wrong reasons.

        I don’t know that there’s a way to change the education system the way I would want to. It would involve totally deconstructing our capitalist ideas of value and money and a person’s worth. It would be nearly impossible. But I suppose I can dream, right?

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        • Krysta says:

          I think that student and employers are very aware that a BA is the new high school diploma. If anyone isn’t aware, it’s probably career academics who got their PhD years ago and never tried to find a job outside the academy, or older employees who haven’t been on the job market for awhile. But the fact is that employers are now requiring BAs and MAs for jobs that do not actually require a higher degree for anyone to perform them. Is there any reason the average public library worker needs an MLIS? No. Do you really need a Master’s to go into business or for hotel management? Again, not really. In the past employers would train you on the job but now they preferthat you spend your own money and go into debt so they can save their money. They say it “proves your investment” for you to accrue tens of thousands of debt in an attempt to break into the field. They aren’t really concerned about what happens if you invest but still can’t break in, and then are stuck with debt you can’t get rid of.

          I think that college instructors are really invested in teaching for the sake of knowledge and that there are a number of students who share that perspective and that enthusiasm. But I’m not going to tell a single mother who’s going back to school and working two jobs to support her kids that her going to school to try to get a better job isn’t a valid choice, that she ought to be there for the pure love of reading Shakespeare. How can you find time to read and love Shakespeare when you go to school full-time and work two jobs and take care of your kids by yourself?

          I think we could start helping students to see college as a place for them to do more than attain a job if we were to cut the cost of college. However, most college costs are eaten up by administration meaning that the president, deans, etc. all get nice hefty salaries. The rest of “administrative costs” are things like athletics, counseling services, “free” movie night, the festival on the lawn, the “free” iPads every student gets, the video game lounge, etc. The administrative staff aren’t going to take pay cuts to reduce tuition and students aren’t going to choose a school that offers no athletics or “free” movie nights when they could go to another one that does.

          The real problem, however, is that the general public continues to believe that tuition money goes to overpaid and greedy professors when in fact most colleges are being staffed by adjuncts who barely make a living wage. So the colleges have it cushy. The administrations can continue to give themselves huge bonuses each year while allowing the public to blame the evil faculty for making college so expensive.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. orchidsarefascinating says:

    Great post! I agree with you 100%. One of the reasons I started homeschooling is because I wasn’t being challenged and I was getting stuck on the grades. Even though I had good grades, I felt a constant pressure to focus on keeping them up instead of focusing on learning. And all throughout homeschooling middle school, we didn’t use grades because my mom (and I) felt that I should first love learning (which I kind of already did) and know how to work hard to complete an assignment before adding the pressure of grades. I’m so grateful for this because now I feel confidant about doing my work, and the pressure of grades doesn’t detract from the quality of my work anymore.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I think students feel extremely pressured to do well, but the reality is that a “B” or even a few “C’s” aren’t the end. Not everyone can get “A’s” in school because school is specifically set up to sort and rank people. But I think most people are successful regardless! After all, if you are good at math and you get a job in math, no one’s really going to care if your close reading of Shakespeare junior year wasn’t the best!

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  4. Emily | Rose Read says:

    Great post! I want to echo what a lot of others habe said: grades are being used so much to motivate when learning is what should be valued. I literally had one of my students tell me once “School isn’t about learning, it’s about grades.” My school was in talks to shift to standards-based grading when I left, and I am all in favor. Meaningless points and letters do not help. In SBG, everything is based on whether or not you have learned certain skills at certain levels, which actually gives students concrete learning objectives to work towards instead of playing the point game and working the system just enough to pass. There’s also the problem you talked about on the lack of resiliency in students. They aren’t used to rigorous intellectual challenge and think if they are “bad” at something that there is no way to get better. I read several articles a while back about college professors who are shocked at the lack of resiliency they see due to early spoon-feeding. In a way I feel guily leaving teaching cause I feel like I was decent at working to change these things…but other factors were too great.

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    • Krysta says:

      I’ve read a number of article about professors shocked that their students can’t handled anything but an “A” and I’ve seen the same thing myself a number of times. In some ways I think there’s a lot more pressure on students. You’re told you won’t get into medical school or law school or get the job of your dreams without a 4.0. The job market is far more competitive than it used to be and students are taking on far more debt in an attempt to break into that market. I sympathize with their stress.

      However, I think we are also seeing grade inflation as a way for instructors to deal with students griping about grades. Most colleges are comprised of large numbers of adjuncts whose jobs may be contingent on student reviews. Students tend to rate instructors based on what grade they earn, not based on how good an instructor the person actually is. If you want to get hired or stay hired, you know you have to inflate grades.

      And grades are being inflated in high schools and elementary schools. So students come in think they are 4.0 students and they have mental breakdowns when they get an “A-” or a “B+” because it’s never happened before. I actually know teachers who are forbidden by school policy to fail students. So a student can be absent 90% of the year, have a 30% grade, and they’ll still pass. Of course students now think they can talk their way to a higher grade or get their mommy to come in to get one for them!

      The ironic thing is that grade inflation also means that grades are rather meaningless. Grades are meant to rank and sort people. If I have a graduating class and 80% of them have a 4.0 GPA what does that even mean? Who is actually a star student? If I were hiring people, I wouldn’t hire based on the GPA because I wouldn’t know what it signified.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      The resiliency thing is so interesting to me. I know that “grit” was a buzzword in education for awhile, and then people realized that the concept wasn’t defined well or implemented well, and I believe most schools don’t talk much about it as much, though some do, particularly some of the “no excuses” charter schools. But I do think this is a thing we need to work on with students, based on my own experiences teaching. Many people are not used to challenges, and they are not used to getting anything lower than an A. If they can’t find the answer to something, they immediately email me. There’s no spending time looking, no trying to work it out with other students in the class, etc. And there’s a lot of flat-out asking, “What do you want me to say/do to get an A?” For a lot of people, it’s about a shortcut to a grade.

      I had one student write me an essay (topic: a problem you have encountered in education) where she wrote about a really interesting project she had done for an English class. She said she enjoyed it. She said she learned a lot from it. She had it was a great project. The problem? The teacher hadn’t given the class a grade for the project. She said that the time she spent on it was “wasted.” In my feedback, I tried asking whether she truly believe the project was a waste since she said she had learned so much from it, but I never heard more about the topic. It was very interesting to me. And it’s sadly it’s why, as a teacher, I feel obligated to attach a point value to every little assignment; if it’s not worth points, no one does it. I would love to do something like have students do an ungraded presentation for practice before they do a second presentation that is graded. But I can’t. If the presentation were ungraded, half my class would simply be absent that day.

      I would LOVE standards based grading. That’s really the question in many courses, particularly since I was teaching composition for a while. Honestly, it’s kind of a ridiculous distinction to say “You are an A writer” and “You are an A-” writer. What’s the difference? It would make much more sense to just be able to say “Your essay achieved x, y, and z, but not a and b.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Krysta says:

        I wonder if standards based grading would also help student who struggled with mental illness. Right now the pressure to perform and to be perfect is really intense and students working through something like anxiety or depression may find it difficult to achieve that perfection when in many ways the school system is set up against them (it’s difficult to get participation points when you can’t attend class or can’t talk in front of your peers). Maybe if there were a system that focused on acquiring skills instead of seemingly grading the person, it would be easier? There would be some acknowledge at least of, “Hey, you did these things really well. Now let’s make a plan together to work on the other things.”

        Liked by 1 person

        • Emily | Rose Read says:

          That’s an excellent point. I once had a patron at the library rant to me about her son’s IEP, and she had a point: everyone should have an IEP, special needs or not. At first, I thought, that’s ridiculous, do you have any idea how much time/paperwork IEP’s require?? But in reality, moving to SBG is kindof almost like giving each student an Individualized Education Plan. It’s all about meeting students where they are and working on improving those skills, no matter where they might be starting from.

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          • Krysta says:

            In theory I agreed everyone could have an IEP. In reality, no teacher could handle that. How can you have 300 students in a university and be running 300 lesson plans? 30 lesson plans would be overwhelming! But I think you’re right that SBG helps get around that issue.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    “But classes are not supposed to validate an individual’s knowledge. Classes are supposed to teach things.” Yes!!! Right there. Thank you. My daughter (now in high school) is in all honors and AP classes. She is a brilliant kid and guess what? She still struggles constantly and sometimes “fails”. Why? Because she is being challenged to think and do more. She is being pushed further and taught to dive deeper!

    I am amazed at the number of individuals who I encounter that suggest ‘maybe she should seek a lower class’ or ‘maybe the teacher is doing it wrong’ when she hits a rough patch. Maybe, just maybe the teacher is doing it just right 😉 Maybe I want what my daughter has been given to be constantly pushed and challenged. I want her to be encouraged to always look further and dig deeper. I want her to also understand that with success there will occasionally be moments that she will not always hit the mark. This is life and life is learning and growing.

    The day that my children are able to stop trying is the day that I will truly question the education system they are in.

    As always, another great post!

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    • Krysta says:

      There is a balance where students are being challenged to grow and where students might be challenged too much and so they give up or begin to cheat instead of trying to grow. However, I think most instructors are aware of this and they provide the necessary support to make sure students can do what they need to do. And I think it’s important, too, for students to be able to fail in a safe environment like school where they still have support. It’s much better to learn how to pick yourself up and try again when the stakes are lower.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      I think I tell this anecdote every once in a while, but it’s so often relevant: I went to high school with a girl who enrolled in an intro chemistry course (I think at the local community college?) over the summer so that when she entered AP Chemistry senior year of high school she would already know the material and be able to get a good grade. It blew my mind. At that point, I’d be negotiating with the high school to prove that I had already taken chemistry and should be given credit for the course, or I’d pick a different science elective (you didn’t need to take AP Chem) and not waste my time taking the same course all over again. But in her mind, or perhaps in her parents’, the point of taking AP Chem was to already know how to do it and thus get an A in the class and get a high GPA. It wasn’t about learning the material. It was astounding to me at the time, but I’ve seen enough similar behavior since then that I’m no longer surprised. The fact that you might encounter things in a class that you do not already have mastery of is an unfamiliar concept to many students, and when they don’t know how to do something, they flip out that the class is too hard or unfairly challenging.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

        It is such a baffling mentality. It seriously makes me wonder about a lot of things in terms of the guidance they are receiving during high school. Does that seem like a fair statement? I want my kids to take advantage of every opportunity to learn. But I never want them to have the false impression that anything will ever come easy or be handed to them. I certainly do not want them looking for “short cuts”. There will not be any in real life.

        My daughter pretty much views everything including the AP classes as more of a prep for her college years. But she belongs to a few programs that are specifically designed to help her align her current high school curriculum with her college plans. She knows which credits currently transfer to the school she plans to attend and has met with that school to verify what work will benefit her most for the degree she is seeking. She is a pretty realistic though and knows that she will encounter a lot of new things. She struggles often actually. But I am still pretty excited that she is so driven. I truly was not at her age 😉

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  6. Anj @ seaweed books says:

    I so needed this post. Krysta, thank you for posting this. It gets really tiring and stressful after a day of school. Not to mention the load of work that we get. But yes, learning means gaining knowledge rather than learn what you already know! It’s quite frustrating to see all of the hard work you’ve done go down the drains and maybe that is what discourages a lot of students and they lis interest altogether. Education should be ‘savoured’ and should not be a rat race. That just drives out the main purpose of education in the first place.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think it can also be useful to remember that not everything may make sense when you first learn it and sometimes you will struggle in new situations and may find that you feel you are getting worse before you get better. But that’s part of the process. And maybe later on something that happened will suddenly click and you’ll see its value or understand what your instructor was trying to say all those years before. We tend to want to reap instant rewards but, sadly, rewards often come in their own sweet time.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. myfailurestep,Education says:

    Without hard work and perseverance, any person cannot make it through the process of education. Education is both Practical and Theoretical.

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