Recently, a blogger friend commented on my personal blog: “It is hard to imagine myself as a once great curious and academically thriving student!”
When I read that I had hard time thinking of a meaningful answer, but I think I have one after attending http://edcampvancouver.org yesterday!
Bunch of educators gathered together to discuss various topics, among which, obviously, one theme took a major spot — education change. I found one session very interesting as we got to discuss how to assess learning and we all unanimously agreed we shouldn’t do that with letter grades, or any scales for that matter! You see, once we get measured against an arbitrary scale, the marks become the goal. When we move on with our life and the scale is long gone, it is hard to figure out if we’re successful or not. We’ve become dependent on an “expert” measuring us and we never built the self-confidence we need to trust our instincts.
So when my friend says she can’t imagine herself as the once academically thriving student, that to me sounds like longing for the scale, not the learning. Once we realize the scale was wrong, set-up in an arbitrary way by self-proclaimed experts — or worse in the education system, by a bureaucracy that long-lost its personal face as it became so big it took a life on its own — we’re free to move on and look up to the future where the learning is the goal and the world around us, the connections we make, the stories we share, the ideas we listen to, is the classroom.
During Edcamp Vancouver, many people asked me what I do for a living. My response was always “I work in software”. On the way back home my head was still buzzing from all the things I heard at the conference, but one question kept coming — is my career really what I do for a living? I realized at the time, what I really do for a living is LEARNING! (Maybe it was all the learning I did in the bus as I was sitting across two girls talking about the benefits of plastic surgery and the abundance of cheap surgeons in Mexico that can do wonders with the extra fat from the bottom … and not for girls only — who new!)
You see, when I saw learning as the way of leading my life, I realized my previous view “I work in software” is a different representation of the same basic problem of using a scale to measure ones success, worth, knowledge… Saying “I work in software” is really not so different from saying “I am an A-grade student” as one’s career ultimately determines one’s opportunity to earn monies and feel successful on yet another scale — economic status, which for the society we live in is the ultimate scale, just like for the schools the letter or percent grades are the ultimate measure of knowledge.
The trick is, neither knowledge, nor monies and career define the life I may lead in my future. They may be some kind of snapshot of my state today and as such provide some summative view over my life in the past, but have little power to predict my future. This is best seen in crisis, whether imposed on me, like economic busts or natural disasters, or consciously chosen, like immigration. In those cases, it is the learning that I do today (and every day!) that will determine my life in the future.
To accept learning as the way to live our life, we may need to stop measuring it! Once we put a scale on it, it collapses to be something else — a grade, career, a bank account balance, the number of rooms in our house… When we see learning for what it truly is — a tool for life — failing to imagine ourselves be at the top of some arbitrary scale we were measured against in the past would have little effect on us doing something we are passionate about in the future.
As for my friend, she’s already doing what she’s passionate about — writing, and being good at that (oops, there goes another scale!) — so I am sure the loss of the academically thriving student would be no impediment to keep her passion alive!