Dear parents, students, teachers and worldwide seekers of knowledge,
I am writing you concerning a subject that has a vital importance to all of us. I am writing you to discuss the landscape of education. Please be aware, dear reader, that this won’t actually be a discussion, since I’m writing the article without listening to what you have to say; I just hope, nonetheless, to ignite a spark that will make you think about how knowledge is being brought to us and, most importantly, how much of that we knowledge are actually retaining.
Let me begin by saying that education isn’t just about university degrees. Education is the life-long constant process of acquiring knowledge, which gives meaning to our lives and helps us find our purpose, our mission.
It can come through attending classes, traveling, speaking different languages, reading and listening, amongst many other ways. Ultimately, education comes from pursuing a life with meaning and purpose, with voluntary action and a positive mindset.
This is the first of my Ubiquitous Assimilation series of letters in which I’ll explore the different ways we’re provided with education. I decided to break the ice by writing about the most common source of knowledge: formal education.
I’ll be straightforward: I’m sceptic about the majority of our current education institutions. I live in a generation where professors lack innovation in their method of teaching, and students lack self-awareness and are too superficial to actually care. This bilateral problem is limiting the success of my generation, and might jeopardize the dreams of the future ones. Make no mistakes, I’m a terrible example of a student. I skipped classes, I free-rode group projects, and I challenged the authority of professors. Nonetheless, I’ve always understood the importance of cultivating my mind and working on my thought process, which forces me to advocate for a change.
My generation’s learning journey, at school or university, is too formatted to allow a regular student to build a passion. That is also why, I believe, so many students finish an undergraduate or graduate degree without a single idea of what to do with the rest of their life. They tend to passively go with the flow, spend money on Masters and MBAs, until they suddenly wake up with a family, bills to pay and daily responsibilities that prohibit any radical change of path.
We don’t explore, we avoid challenges and escape the idea of making mistakes, of being wrong.
Institutions must preserve, between their students, not only different ethnicities, but also a diverse way of thinking (thus avoiding formatting content). They must encourage the debate of ideas, foment practical action and spread kindness and wellbeing among their faculty.
PEDAGOGICS MUST CHANGE
“Stopping Trump is a short-term solution. The long-term solution – and it will be more difficult – is fixing the educational system that has created so many people ignorant enough to vote for Trump.”
Professors are ambassadors of the pursuit of knowledge. Their profession is, indeed, shaping the future in a very direct and consequential way. It is crucial that, before we assess students, we spend some time evaluating the quality of those who are supposed to teach.
Professors must be creative and firm, paternally kind and human-oriented individuals. They must not only understand what they are preaching, but also whom they are teaching to. Their profession has as much responsibility as a football coach or a politician. Besides providing knowledge, they set an example and build a benchmark of what is insufficient work or outstanding performance. So why are they so poorly paid? Why isn’t society thanking them or newspapers profiling them? Because the vast majority of teachers are not good at what they do, and do not intend to become any better. Becoming a professor doesn’t seem to be a vocation, but rather a consequence of many dead-end roads. Yes, there are thousands of outstanding professors out there, but it is such a small percentage when compared to the overall pedagogics representatives, that their brilliant work is overshadowed by so much incompetence.
If I were to be a professor, I would emphasize the importance of doing essays, of forcing students to do research beyond the standardized content of a lecture. I would create incentive beyond grades, such as books, lunches with interesting individuals or tickets to sporting events, theatres, and music concerts.
I would focus on different techniques of delivering a presentation, on doing interactive PowerPoints and websites. I would teach the basics of programming or, at least, build the necessary foundations to understand how a computer works. I would rely on case studies, both of people and companies, and I would always force my students to be aware of what is happening around the world. I would campaign to create a mandatory trimester where students would have to volunteer, because there’s always someone, somewhere, who needs our help. I would be a parent, a friend, and someone who students can rely on.
Let us be the generation who acknowledges the importance of teachers, thus improving professors’ conditions to deliver great work. Let’s recruit successful individuals who achieved outstanding results in their field of work, and provide them the rightful compensation to teach young minds. Let’s create incentives for people to change the world and then become professors, so that their experience will lead students to be engaged. By doing so, we’ll cut those who aren’t interested in being an active and full-time participant in the pedagogic world and, consequently, provide a better foundation in which our students can build the future of our society.
PRACTICE MAKES PERMANENT
Leonardo da Vinci said: “Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master”. That could result from the master’s weak ability to teach, which we have already explored, or the pupil’s uninvolved brain.
While studying, we must be curious.
While studying, we must be ambitious.
While studying, we must question and reflect.
My generation of students is characterized by great analytical and quantitative skills of problem-solving, yet we lack the fundamental understanding of things. We absorb theory without constructing any link to the practical world. We focus on memorizing the content, almost as if there will be no more use to what we’ve learned besides the accomplishment of a good grade in the exam. We learn how to pass, but not how to work. We learn what to answer, but not what to question. We forget to be creative, since there is no space for that in multiple-choice exams.
We are a generation of selfish students, who does not understand the value of what’s brought to us. We don’t recognize that we have almost every tool to become whoever we want. We have access to an unimaginable amount of information, yet we just care about social media. Our voice can be heard, but we only strive for our bodies to be seen. We’re a spoiled generation, who’s morally decadent and intellectually apathetic.
World War II was just two generations away. The refugees’ crisis is right next to us. Our contribution to the world cannot be merely liking a picture or sharing a video. We must take action and control of what is happening around the world. We must know what the problem is before we can change it. And that begins by getting educated, by understanding philosophy and history, physics and mathematics, languages and economics. We must be educated, so that we can understand who to vote for and what to ask. We must trust professors’ methods, even if they don’t seem relevant in the short term. We’re the first generation who might live in Mars or end poverty. We, as students, have a moral obligation towards the Einsteins and the Berners-Lees of the world, to the Kafkas and Tolstoys, to the Luther Kings and Mandelas.
We, as students, have a moral obligation to do better than our predecessors. It is not a question of competition. It is, indeed, a question of evolution.
The average student