I hate to disagree with all the experts but education has little to do with a score on a test.
It would make things mighty simple if it did but that just is not the case.
An education, i.e. what we actually know, is much more akin to this:
Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.
That's not me talking.
It's Albert Einstein.
What he means is that a true education must endure far beyond the classroom.
It comes down to the stuff that sticks to your ribs. The things you know inside out.
An education amounts to the things that become part of you.
I rolled this around in my head at the start of the fall semester a few years ago trying to figure out what causes students to really learn.
What is something they all learned and will probably never forget, I pondered. Driving a car came to mind.
With few exceptions, kids in college classes know how to drive.
How did they learn that skill?
In a classroom?
True, some may have taken driver's ed but the vast majority learned in a manner that had little resemblance to school.
Most of them learned from a dad who had not a lick of training in pedagogy and even less patience.
They learned from a dad who, at the end of an exhausting work day and only to cease a long litany of begging, took them out to some deserted parking lot where he screamed and swore and berated them to the point of tears.
There were no handouts in these ‘classes'. No PowerPoint presentations. No grades.
Still, the ‘students' learned.
And more importantly, they never forgot.
The question can be answered in one word: motivation.
They learned to drive because they wanted to.
Better put, they really, really, really wanted to.
So no matter how horrible the teacher, no matter how horrible the educational experience, no matter how difficult the task, they learned.
It's so simple. Yet, in most formal educational settings, motivation is disregarded, or better put, misunderstood.
Punishment is not motivation.
Neither are threats.
Yet, these are the "motivators" educators have used for decades.
As a result, most students view school as an evil fact of life rather than an exciting opportunity to grow. School is something to be endured as opposed to enjoyed.
It does not have to be this way.
Learning to drive was motivated by something to which all of us can relate: what's in it for me?
Granted it's not as easy to answer that question when trying to motivate a student to learn history, math or English, but unless the benefit is made clear very little learning is going to take place.
In an ideal world, becoming a better, more interesting person would be motivation enough. In reality, making a ton of money is what gets young people's attention. So let's capitalize on that.
If a good job – translated "hefty paycheck" – is the goal, then let's show kids how the things we are trying to teach them will get them there.
Several years ago a student in one of my classes said something like, "Me and Chad are going for coffee after class."
"You know that's not proper English," I said.
"How many of you know that's not the correct way to talk?" I asked the class of 30 or so. They all raised their hands.
"How many of you would say ‘Chad and I' instead of ‘Me and Chad'?" Only a few hands went up.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because we'd sound stupid," one said.
"Proper English makes you sound stupid?" I said. "To me that sounds stupid."
To which the first kid said, "What difference does it make? You knew what I meant."
"Here's the difference," I told him. "If someday you are being interviewed for a good job and you tell your prospective boss ‘Me and you will make a good team,' guess what? Someone else will get the good job and be driving a Porsche before long while you are riding your bicycle to your friend's house where ‘Me and Chad are going to play a video game'."
I then added, "And if that happens, I will be the one to blame for allowing you to keep talking like that."
Is the potential to make big money the best motivation for education?
I think not.
But it's a start.