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Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Let’s Admit It – Education is Not the Most Important Thing in Life

Aah Christmas break, or winter break, as we call it in my district so as not to offend anyone with our secularism.  The students eagerly awaiting when I would drop the bomb; the homework bomb.  How much would I require to make them do during their break, what projects would they have to cram in the final night of vacation?  I could tell they were anxious, I could tell they worried, and yet I waited.  After all, we had things to do.  So on the very last day before break, I stood by our assignmet board and I told them the news; You have no homework.  You can read a book if you want, you can blog if you want, you can relax, and come back recharged.  We have much to do in the new year and you will need your energy.  Silence.  Then a few mumbled thank you’s.

I am nothing special, I am not alone in the refusal to assign homework over break.  However, I take it one step further when I say that we have to stop pretending that education is the MOST important thing in life.  True, education is important, it shapes people and their lives, but it is not the most important and it never will be.  Yet, we as educators, treat it like it is.  We treat missed homework assignments as if they are the end of the world, as if this child will continue on a path of failure because they didn’t do whatever thing we told them to do in their free time.  We treat missing school as if they will never catch up again, as if their learning journey will be stunted and never start again.  We treat sickness as an inevitable nemesis and we hope the students come back to scholl as quickly as possible so as not to miss anything and then wonder when they stare at us with listless eyes.

We must stop the infringement on students’ free time.  Their vacations are not ours to control, otherwise school would still be in session.  Their afternoons are not for us to manage, but their parents, and if their parents want to them to do work then so be it, but it is not ours to use whichever way we see fit.  We complain sometimes of how much work teaching is, how we can never fit everything in to our day, how draining it can be, how teaching is a 24-hour job.  We dream of vacation and of feeling like we did enough, and yet, we do the same to our students.  We force hours of homework upon them all in the name of education.  We force them to work when they have already given 7 or 8 hours of their best time.  We take away their time and then complain when we do not get the results we expected.

So stop the madness.  Stop assuming that their free time is ours because what we have to say and make them do takes precedent over everything else in their life.  Yes, education is important, but our worksheets, projects, and packets are not.  Remaining curious, a willing explorer, and a never-ending learner that is more important.  Wanting to learn in important, being rewarded with free time for the hard work during school hours is important, being treated as if their time is, indeed, their time that is important.  Coming back to school, eager to be there, because a break is what was needed, that is important for all of us.  So do yourself a favor, no more homework.  Keep your learning within designated hours as much as possible.  Particularly during breaks.  Give students what they so deserve, their own time, and take some for yourself as well.  You work hard, you deserve it as much as they do.

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About Pernille Ripp

I am a passionate 5th grade teacher in Middleton, Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students' heads every day. First book “The Passionate Learner - Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Discussion

22 thoughts on “Let’s Admit It – Education is Not the Most Important Thing in Life

  1. Thanks for raising this issue, Pernille. When I was a young teacher, it was kind of expected that we would assign work to students over Christmas and Spring breaks. I’m not sure whether anyone gave much thought to this, but there seemed to an implicit belief that any teacher worth anything automatically assigned some work over the holidays.

    In my own school district, practices are changing and new policy statements advise against assigning completion and practice homework over school, religious and statutory holidays. In addition, homework assigned to prepare students for future work cannot have a due date of “the first day back” after one of these holiday periods or statutory holidays.

    I think that this is a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go before the long-standing belief that the reach of school should extend beyond the school day is seriously challenged, let alone eradicated.

    I think that you raise an interesting, if implicit, assumption: that school and education are synonomous. There are so many experiences outside of school that have educational potential. Most would agree.

    The question I have as I read through your post has to do with my role as parent: “Can most of the experiences that our children have outside of school stand on their own as educative, or do we need to bring some focus to them? Is experience a natural teacher, or do the experiences that our children have (inside and outside school) need to be mediated?

    Posted by Stephen Hurley | December 28, 2011, 4:07 pm
    • What a fascinating question. I do not know if children just exploring on their own could be considered educational, unless we “discover” along with them and try to make sense of it. Perhaps this is where school comes in, to create learning opportunities and then discuss them. However, I do not have the answer as it is something I will ponder and reflect over. I wonder if others have any thoughts on this.

      Posted by Pernille Ripp | December 28, 2011, 4:16 pm
      • Why does everything have to be ‘educational’ cant children just enjoy being? Living their lives, doing what they enjoy? Creating a life they want to have & live fully in each moment? Why does everything have to be about ‘what they want to do for money when their an adult’? If kids learn through experiencing life, and eventually make money from doing what they love, isn’t that success? When they are free to pursue their interests & express their individuality. Learning is a natural part of life, you don’t need ‘school’ for that. Happiness & joy are the most important things. If they can learn to walk & talk on their own they are capable of anything! 😊

        Posted by Chaide | August 18, 2014, 8:36 am
    • they need school homework over break because ifthey don’t they will forget what they learn and get far behind.

      Posted by anglel | May 18, 2012, 9:45 am
  2. Thanks for the post. I’ve had similar thoughts as my children get to be school-aged. Learning is important. Education is sometimes important. But living well – that’s ultimately all that matters. I want my kids to play. I want them to laugh. I want them to fight and resolve conflict. There’s deep learning in this, but that’s not even the point. There’s deep humanity in it’s where life is found.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | December 28, 2011, 4:39 pm
    • Great comments John! So, the question of what it means to “live well” is one that has many answers, and forms the foundation of the stories that we tell ourselves. School and education figures prominently in many of these stories.

      School? Learning? Education? Ok, now you have me looking for the connective tissue.

      Posted by Stephen Hurley | December 28, 2011, 4:48 pm
  3. Education is the most important thing in life. We have to stop pretending that it only happens in schools.

    Posted by Deven Black | December 28, 2011, 6:14 pm
    • I still don’t think education is the most important thing in life (love, happiness, family, health are all more important to me than education) but I agree with the other part of your statement; eduction does not just happen in school.

      Posted by Pernille Ripp | December 28, 2011, 6:24 pm
  4. Things outside of school don’t have what Stephen Hurley calls “educational potential.” There is no such thing as educational potential. Everything educates. Everything educates all the time. We learn all the time, though much of that learning is not consciously done or appreciated.

    People are sponges. They observe, notice patterns, make assumptions, test them, and record the results. The so-called ‘scientific process’ is not something we have to teach, we just have to point out to students that they’ve been using it their entire lives. All we’ve done is give it a name.

    The question is not and should not be, “how can we motivate students to learn?” It should be, “what do we want students to learn, why do we want them to learn it, and how can we make it important and applicable?”

    Posted by Deven Black | December 28, 2011, 6:22 pm
  5. A fascinating post, Pernille.

    I recently had a discussion along these lines with a Prof at MSU — Schooling does not equate to education, and learning does not depend upon schooling.

    As far as I can discern, “education” and its credential accoutrements is a commodity, and a means, through becoming credentialed, to commodify oneself.

    Posted by Brent Snavely | December 28, 2011, 7:16 pm
  6. Pernille, how would school have to change to make it “our time” all the time?

    Does this admonishment – “stop assuming that their free time is ours” – also apply to kids’ time spent in school?

    In your mind, does our cohabitation of school make it okay to infringe on kids’ time then, or is there a better model of community that schools could pursue to make learning more relevant and valuable to kids’ and their communities?

    If homework is an infringement, is schoolwork that looks like homework also one? Is this a time issue, or an authenticity issue regarding the work we ask of kids? Is it both?

    What if homework was a morning meeting question: what did you learn last night – a fact, a joke, a startling truth?

    I’m inspired by the verve of your post to ask so many questions.

    All the best,
    Chad

    Posted by Chad Sansing | December 28, 2011, 9:04 pm
  7. Well said. I never set homework in holidays as a teacher in UK. I hated it as a kid and remember not really learning much when I did from these ‘just for the sake of it’ exercises.
    The biggest lesson we should teach young people is that sometimes I’m life ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ and that being polite, hard working, innovative and NICE will get you through life.
    However of course, qualifications are very important too.
    Maybe we could say that LEARNING is important. But so is laughter and I don’t hear enough if that in schools today.

    Posted by Stephen Cook | December 29, 2011, 4:55 am
  8. Pernille,

    I really enjoyed the post. I have been working with a large faculty of high school educators this year not just on the fabtastic issue you bring up of assigning homework on a break – but also of assigning anything without purpose. I have been driving the point home this year with my faculty about ensuring that whatever you do in the classroom you must be able to answer: what is the purpose?

    If you cannot, then you need to rethink what you have going on. The same goes with your post – what is the purpose of homework on break?

    “We force hours of homework upon them all in the name of education.” Great point and so true.

    I look forward to reading more of you work as I am fairly new to the commentary on the Coop. Thanks.

    Posted by mikemeechin | December 29, 2011, 9:21 am
  9. Great post! i voted for Obama, recognizind education is not the modt important thing in life. His ed. agenda is indistinguishable from GW Bush’s.

    Posted by Mark Flynn | December 29, 2011, 1:03 pm
  10. Great points, Pernille. We sometimes tend to take ourselves too seriously and forget, or ignore, that students have a life outside of school. And, so do we. I’m not a fan of homework and I only expect/hope that my 2’s do reading every day outside of school even on the days they don’t come to school. I cringe whenever my son brings work to do at home. As a parent, I resent this intrusion on my home time. Thanks for this reminder!

    Posted by Elisa Waingort | December 29, 2011, 7:24 pm
  11. I strayed on here a couple weeks back and I truly can not
    get enough! Please keep writing!

    Posted by http://www.metrowestneuropsych.com | December 20, 2012, 10:27 pm
  12. If education is defined as general acquisition of knowledge, then it is by far the most important thing in life. Without it no one would have noticed that you can put seeds in the ground and grow food, no one would have developed the hoe, no one would have invented vaccines. The only reason you don’t spend all of your time hunting and foraging is due to learning. You would barely have any time for friends, family, and love and you’d certainly see your loved ones die far more without the things learning has given us.

    Posted by Eric | March 11, 2013, 3:36 am

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