Infographic: My Educational System
School ≠ Learning. Learning = Living.
Our home was full of learning. It was not uncommon for the entire family to sit around the dinner table and swap random facts they learned during the day. My parents were both the first in their families to graduate college and were self-driven, life-long learners. My mom, a teacher by training (though she stopped teaching to raise us), instilled in us a love for learning. Through my early years, I saw that for many of my classmates, learning was something done at school (and thus something to hate because, frankly, who likes homework and tests?). To my brothers and I, learning was the fun we had at home when our school day and homework was done. School was just...school. There was very little crossover in my mind.
Thankfully, my mom did her best to get us in classes with teachers who saw the big picture; teachers who understood the basic concept of multiple intelligences and taught in visual, audio, and kinesthetic ways (Armstrong, 2018). Mrs. Marley, my incredible second grade teacher, was one such teacher. I was a voracious reader at home, skipping out of chores by going to the restroom to read so I could honestly say, “Sorry, I’m in the bathroom!” when my mom came searching for me. One day, early in the school year, Mrs. Marley caught me reading a book under my desk. She asked me to stay after class. (Being a conscientious student, I was absolutely terrified that I had broken the rules.) I vividly remember her saying, “Destiny, I don’t want to ever see you reading under your desk again. Don’t be ashamed to read if your work is done. Read on top of your desk.” She began to give me more advanced math problems to help me grow and she brought books from home for me to read. (At the library, there were only about five books that were for my reading level so she must have noticed that I had slim pickings.) She sought out opportunities to nurture me so that I would, as Dewey wrote, “have the fully and ready use of [my] capacities” (Dewey, 1897).
My parents taught me that living is learning. The concept of learning has been completely separate from “school” in my mind except for a few special teachers who bridged the gap. They have given me a meaningful education in settings other than the traditional classroom and through materials outside of the traditional curriculum.
Community Supported. Individually Driven.
It wasn’t until I left public school in my junior year of high school that I was exposed to my first “democratic” educational environment (Dewey, 1916). I transferred to a college prep charter school located on Embry Riddle University campus, two towns away. With only 200 students in total and our entire school consisting of four double wide trailer-sized buildings, our little school had very few cliques and I immediately felt right at home. The following year I transferred to a bilingual school in Colonia Juarez, Mexico, where the idea of “it takes a village to raise a child” was their mantra (Goldberg, 2016). Each of my teachers had grown up in this tiny, close-knit farming community and had gone abroad to serve church missions worldwide and train as teachers. I saw my teachers at the store, church, and on the weekends and it was clear that they were whole-heartedly invested in raising each of us as their own.
Later, during my final year of university, two scholarships enabled me to take part in the Semester at Sea program through the University of Virginia. Living for four months on a university ship, we followed the ideal of Thomas Jefferson by setting up an Academical Village onboard (Zechmeister, 2011). We lived side by side with our professors, their families, and our classmates who had come from every part of the globe. After leaving the port of each country, we would spend hours discussing with each other the highs and lows of our trips, laughing and crying together. (Not having internet access definitely helped us have uninterrupted conversations!) The focus of our discussions always came back to “What do we do with this incredible experience we have been given?” and the shipboard community always emphasized that “with the spirit of service, and...with instruments of effective self-direction...we shall have the deepest and best guarantee of a larger society which is worthy, lovely and harmonious” (Dewey, 1899). With a limited number of people on board, living in such close proximity with each other, we knew which classmates had lost a family member back home the day before, which teachers were in arguments with their spouses, which students were struggling with seasickness. We truly lived and learned in what Dewey called an “embryonic community” (Dewey, 1916)!
Traditional Schooling ≠ Effective Learning.
While in middle school, I had an incredible band teacher named Mr. Sprague. His classes were so popular that nearly a third of our student body was in one of his bands. It wasn’t that Mr. Sprague was especially entertaining or chill, but he had set up a band program that fit our demographic. In our small town of 9,000 people, he knew that most of us would never go on to play music. He focused on teaching us just enough “music theory” to get us playing the first day (i.e. how to play a note and how long to hold a note). My small town piano teacher, on the other hand, spent years training me how to hold my hands properly on the piano, the definitions of musical terms, and complex theory before allowing me to play music that I enjoyed. (Needless to say, she was not impressed with Mr. Sprague.) Thankfully, I was determined to play so I stuck with her rigid method. Mr. Sprague made learning instruments a blast by selecting music like “Born to be Wild” and music themes from popular movies while steadily increasing the music difficulty to expand our ability (Bonfire, 1968). His students left middle school with fond memories of band (and a large number went on to learn all the complicated music theory they needed to become successful, professional musicians!) Just as Dewey emphasized the need to develop a student and his passions, rather than teaching pre-determined skills, Mr. Sprague let go of the traditional methods of teaching music and made it relatable to us.
This philosophy was also honed in me as I learned languages. I’ll give three examples: Spanish, Arabic, and ASL. My Spanish classes in school were focused on proper conjugations and written tests. Even though we lived in Arizona with a large Hispanic community, we were never once encouraged to or modeled on how to speak Spanish with our Hispanic classmates. When I moved to Mexico, I was placed in a rudimentary Spanish course with a few other international students. The teacher taught us in the now familiar, traditional way: focusing on conjugations and written tests. I remember going through the exercises and thinking, “I just need to know how to ask my teacher about my math homework and joke around with my friends at lunch, not properly conjugate the subjunctive form for usted!” A couple of years later, I took an Arabic college language course with a class that had several students in the military. We spent the first half of the semester trying to learn how to write and read the language before one of the military cadets said respectfully, but forcefully, “I’m getting shipped out to the Middle East in a couple of months. I need to learn how to speak first, not write!” The teacher countered by saying that this was how language was taught in college settings.
It wasn’t until I began my American Sign Language training program in San Antonio, Texas, and then later learning Hungarian at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, that I learned how language could be learned. In both of these locations, we only spoke/signed in the target language. Language modeling by our teachers in class and interactions with each other while eating, exercising, and joshing around outside of class, allowed us hands-on learning. (In the case of ASL, it was literally hands-on learning!) Again, learning a language was not something attached to class but rather something we did for fun outside of class (applying what we had learned in class). Like Dewey understood about children, we “played” with what we learned and our minds soaked in an incredible amount of information during the semester(s) of training (Gray, 2008). I do not remember a single word of Arabic and yet Hungarian and ASL are etched deeply in my mind. It has been clear throughout my educational career that traditional schooling methods do not always equal effective learning; effective learning comes when our education is relevant to our reality and offers deeply submersive experiences.
I did not realize how incredibly diverse my education system was until I started mapping out this portfolio assignment. It seems that the primary purpose of my schooling was to take in the information I needed to do well on our standardized tests; to survive the day of “child’s work” (Gray, 2008). But what I have determined to make the primary purpose of my education (and the purpose I feel I have been guided to) is communicated on a sign in front of my alma mater, Brigham Young University: “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.” (Worthen, 2018). Acquiring knowledge has been and will always be a joy to me when I am learning all I can so that I can better help those who come within my sphere of influence and make good in the world.
Armstrong, T. (2018). Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Born to be Wild [Recorded by 918796260 721794953 M. Bonfire]. (1968). On Steppenwolf [Vinyl recording]. Gabriel Mekler.
Dewey, J. (1897). My Pedagogical Creed. The School Journal, LIV(3), 77-80. Retrieved September 4, 2020, from https://infed.org/mobi/john-dewey-my-pedagogical-creed/
Dewey, J. (1899). The School and Society. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press. Retrieved September 4, 2020, from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/53910/53910-h/53910-h.htm
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. New York City, NY: Macmillan. Retrieved September 03, 2020, from https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Democracy_and_Education.djvu/379
Goldberg, J. (2016, July 30). It Takes A Village To Determine The Origins Of An African Proverb. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/07/30/487925796/it-takes-a-village-to-determine-the-origins-of-an-african-proverb
Gray, P. (2008, August 20). A Brief History of Education. Retrieved September 4, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/200808/brief-history-education
Worthen, K. J. (2018, August 16). Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve. Speech presented at BYU Devotional in Utah, Provo. Retrieved September 5, 2020, from https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/kevin-j-worthen/enter-to-learn-go-forth-to-serve/
Zechmeister, G. (2011, June 15). Jefferson's Plan for an Academical Village. Retrieved September 05, 2020, from https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-plan-academical-village