Though modern approaches tend to admit three and only focus on two, I find there are four modes of education.
First, the two universally agreed upon:
- Knowledge. Understanding and remembering facts. A staple of elementary education and a necessary foundation for “higher order” thinking. (Once, while asking students to analyse Einstein’s quote, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” one young iconoclast noted that the saying doesn’t necessarily denigrate knowledge, but might tacitly accept it as a prerequisite to deeper creativity–after all, without knowledge, how can imagination actually be conceived and brought to practical fruition?)
- Skills. In the current Common Core era, this is king. Being able to apply knowledge and actually do something with it is the new name of the game. Fair enough. Outside of the classroom context, from basic independence to problem solving to leadership, life is about skills.
Also, technically acknowledged, but rarely addressed in the civic sphere, is:
3. Character. Though some readings or projects in the humanities might approach this, as a primary focus, character development is fraught with worry–is this a religious thing?–and vocally naming it is overtly avoided.
Ironically, early in the last century, a Mormon leader gave an address about education in church and said:
The teaching of a system of ethics to the students is not a sufficient reason for running our seminaries and institutes. The great public school system teaches ethics.
My, how times have changed.
Finally, my only somewhat-original contribution to this list, is this:
4. Experience. There are things above facts and skills, beyond memory and ability and even character, that most systems of learning ignore: experiences. These are things that might not be studied, but simply being part of them or aware of them or exposed to them is in itself enriching.
The reason seems obvious: experiences can’t be tested, graded, or often even quantified. As such, they have no real value in an increasingly data-driven school system.
But they have enormous importance in life. They profoundly shape who we are. Our lives revolve around experiences. One only has to go as far as the ubiquitous “copy and mark the things you’ve done on this list” posts on social media to see this.
I’m a big fan of things like this Great Works list given by the BYU Honors Program, consisting of things people should read, see, and hear, in a variety of formats. Yes, they expect a response essay to be done for those things (in their place, I’d do the same–in a classroom, where there’s no accountability, there’s no learning), but for those of us looking to enrich ourselves or our children, the very process of experiencing these things is worthwhile. Still, the more actively we do so, and the more frequently, the better.
So much more falls under this head, though! Relationships and travel, both, by their very nature, are educational, and require no memorizing or modeled, guided practice. While that can be a valuable element in both, in the practical lab of the real world, free exploration has limitless value.
In another post, I’ll discuss some ideas about the role of teachers–in public school classrooms, but also for ourselves, our families, and others–in fostering education in each of these four realms.