How do you perceive education? We take in an incredible amount of information every day, so the question is a tricky one to answer. The person who goes to a standard university to learn may also come home and watch videos about how to use spreadsheets or what chemicals cause certain reactions in the human brain without even realizing that they’re educating themselves in a different way. I have no doubt you’ve been exposed to the idea that we are constantly and forever learning, but have you considered how we decide what type of education is worth our time?
A lot of my writing focuses on the idea that most school systems are inherently flawed and strip young people of their autonomy. Although I believe this, I have found that I contradict myself when writing about subjects I enjoy. In one of my recent articles, I explained my deep appreciation for the corrections I receive in ballet classes. It was brought to my attention that the specific article was different than others I had written in the past. In fact, it was almost completely the opposite. I was praising an educational system for criticizing it’s students abilities for the sake of their future improvement.
This begs the question: why do I crave criticism in ballet but reject it in academics? The answer is, I like ballet. The criticism is well-received because my own passion has become my incentive to improve.
Consider this for a moment: I hated history, not because I wasn’t good at it or the content bored me, but because I felt as though it was a waste of my time. As I’ve matured, I’ve realized that my attitude toward history started to shift during my sophomore year. That year I had AP World History right after my favorite class, pre-calculus.
There is a connection with that specific schedule. I would enter a state of flow during my math class only to have it disrupted by the bell. When I entered my history class, I was irritable and my mind was still stuck on equations and formulas. Couple this with the fact that the history class I took that year was one of the hardest to do well in, and you’ve created a negative association with the class pretty fast.
Suddenly history was no longer worth my time. It’s in my nature to do well in school regardless of my feeling towards the subject, but I got a B in that class. It was the only B on both of my sophomore year semester transcripts. Every subsequent year, I disliked history and the teacher who taught it. I found myself willing to be more disobedient and difficult in that class, often arguing with the instructor and lying about my work. Contrast this with calculus, where I never challenged my tutor for the sake of being disagreeable, and always turned my problems in on time. It was clear which of the two classes was more important to me.
Students, like any other human being, have certain areas of life that interest them more than others. When I enter a flow state while doing mathematics, it’s very hard for me to be abruptly disengaged from the subject. I find myself stuck thinking about the problems I was writing, even if I’ve moved to another class.
I do believe students enter states of flow for subjects they enjoy studying and should be allowed to naturally exit those states when they are ready, but how does this tie back to ballet? How does this claim help us define what is worth our time?
Under different circumstances, I may have enjoyed history. However, not enjoying something I was forced to do amplified the joy I received after working in subjects I truly loved. Students will do much more than put in more effort when allowed to pursue what brings them happiness; they’ll be more receptive to constructive criticism and peer review. When you’re defining what type of education is worth your time, you have to consider how much you’re willing to be criticized. In ballet and math, I was always waiting for my instructors to point out my errors, so I could improve. I wanted to improve and the only way to do so was to be told where my weak points were. Subjects that did not interest me became wastes of time I had to tolerate.
This is where most school systems fail. By requiring students to meet a set of “required” or “fundamental” courses, schools define what is worth students time without considering what they find valuable. Maturity creates a desire for increased autonomy, so students will become increasingly frustrated as they age. Once in their classes, they will be far less likely to be receptive or open to criticism, due to the initial irritation that comes with a lack of choice.
Lately, the ideas of unschooling and radical homeschooling have been taking off, with one article even ending up in Reason Magazine. These concepts have become popular because they are “crazy” enough to allow children to define what is worth their time. They give them the right to say yes or no, as opposed to traditional school systems where they cannot opt out of certain classes. Unschooling and homeschooling instead teach children and young adults that they have control over what they do and how they spend their days. It teaches them that autonomy is not only something they should desire but it is something that they have a right to use. Students that are raised in these environments are more likely to stand up for themselves, to recognize the value of their time. Consequently, they spend time wisely, and focus their efforts on creating a life they enjoy.
Defining what is worth your time is simple. Don’t do things you’re being forced to do, don’t do things you hate. Take time to figure out where you want to grow and focus on those areas. Pay attention to what makes you happy. It is vital that adults allow children and students to spend time pondering those ideas. Once we rid our society of the notion that we all need a certain “foundation” of knowledge and allow people to study what they enjoy, we will find ourselves amidst a generation of students and workers who feel as though their life and work has meaning.