My sophomore year of high school, I had a math teacher named Mr. Hildreth who proposed a compelling view of the significance of an education. He taught me that one does not come to school to learn hard facts. One comes to school to learn how to learn. Teachers have a responsibility to not only teach a subject, but to teach the information in a way that is comprehensible for the student. This idea has stayed with me for years, as I believe that teachers need to reevaluate their priorities. I am certainly not saying that history teachers should teach less history and that math teachers should focus on subjects other than math, but rather, I am saying that teachers should expand their own horizons.
This idea of education aligns with the critiques of the American education system proposed by Cathy N. Davidson in Now You See It. She states, “The real issue isn’t that our schools are too challenging. It’s the opposite…Kids aren’t failing because school is too hard but because it doesn’t interest them. It doesn’t capture their attention” (75-76).
School provides us with opportunities to take ideas, apply them and when necessary, execute them. We are presented with facts and opinions, and we can either memorize them or interpret them. From my own experience though, students resist these facts and opinions when they do not see the relevance of the information to their everyday lives or future profession. I constantly hear classmates moan, “Why does this matter? Why do I care?” With this disinterest comes a lack of motivation. If they think the topic is irrelevant, they do not bother to try. I myself have experienced the feeling. For example, why am I learning astronomy if I want to be a fashion publicist? Every time I struggle to keep my eyes open in a class, whether it be astronomy, geometry or Earth science, I think back to Mr. Hildreth’s belief. It is an important skill to engage in a topic you do not find interesting. We cannot simply ignore subjects and beliefs that do not interest us. If we gain that sort of close-minded mentality, we are doomed to a life of ignorance.
Davidson supports that three “key factors for education success—rigor, relevance, and relationships—have been dubbed the new three Rs” (76). The work must be challenging in order to be worthwhile, but in order for students to embrace the time and expend the effort, they must find relevance in the subject. Teachers demonstrate the relevance of the subject by teaching by forming relationships with the students. These relationships do not form through traditional methods of teaching, such as lecturing. Relationships form through engagement. Teachers bring about relevance to the subject category through enacting teaching methods that will progress the individual student’s learning abilities.
Davidson declares the need for new teaching styles: “Part of our failure rate in contemporary education can be blamed on the one-size-fits-all model of standards that evolved over the course of the twentieth century” (77). I think that any student can agree that PowerPoint is overrated. Listening to professors talk at you while reading off of a PowerPoint presentation has become the norm. Where is the variation? We are not all auditory learners. What happened to kinesthetic learning, or intertwining auditory, visual and kinesthetic? Students with different personalities and varying strengths respond differently to different teaching methods. Davidson attests to this in stating, “Even on a neurological level, brain researchers have shown that kids improve with directed, special attention to their own skills and interests, the opposite of our move toward standardization” (76). In order for teachers to teach well, they must understand their target audience, just like a marketing professional. Sell the product, or in this case, the idea, to the selected demographic, or in this case, the student, in a way that engages.
Educational institutions need to seriously consider Mr. Hildreth’s view of formal education. What if the teachers shifted the focus from the subject to how the subject is taught? What if the teachers taught said subject in various ways throughout the course? For example, a teacher could split the course up into multiple units according to multiple sections of the subject. With those multiple units, the teacher could introduce a new way of teaching the topic, PowerPoint and lecture for Unit 1, student teaching for Unit 2 and interactive games and contests for Unit 3. I propose that when the teacher emphasizes the value of learning before the value of the subject itself, students are more likely to understand the relevance of the course as a whole. Teachers might have more success engaging students on a particularly dull subject if they focus a new approach to the subject, rather than the subject itself.
Davidson provides examples of two teachers that engage in revolutionary methods of teaching to reach students in a more effective way. They are engaging the students while simultaneously teaching them how to learn. The students, essentially, forget they are learning.
Through allowing students the opportunity to embrace a new style of learning, teachers will enable students to more easily see the relevance of the course. If the students find value in the course, they then may be more likely to grasp the content of the subject. Accordingly, Davidson states, “Tie what kids learn in school to what they can use in their homes, their families, and their neighborhood—and vise versa—and not surprisingly, that relevance kicks their likelihood of staying in school up a few notches” (76). Furthermore, she believes, “for all groups, and especially for students in the lowest-achieving group, relationships with teachers and counselors who believe in them and support them…is a determining factor in remaining in school” (76). Teachers understand their important role in the lives of students. I have no doubt about that. There is a lack of understanding though, in the importance of interacting with students in various ways. Students possess different learning styles and different interests. They need to understand how a seemingly irrelevant subject can be of value, because they can learn how to learn.