Sunday, May 3, 2015

Pretending for Education

It's crossed my mind that there's a lot of "pretending" going on in school. Not so much Montessori schools, I don't think, but just thinking about assignments given in local schools here. They don't use the word "pretend," but that's what they mean:

*You have been hired as a summer camp counsellor. This and that were promised to you (blah blah blah) but this is what really happened (blah blah blah). Write a business letter to the director to tell them about the situation and request extra pay be provided due to the extra hours you worked.

*You've been in an accident (and the question provides all kinds of details). Write what you would you to your friends. Now write what you would say to your parents.

For some reason, this pretending bothers me today. It's just so... fake. Yes, they're trying to use real-life potential scenarios, but what about getting the students to write real letters about an issue? To write real things that they've shared with both friends and parents in a different way? And, sort of related, why do they spend so many years trying to get kids to write fiction???? What difference does it make if they can write fiction or not in terms of being educated?? (Answer: None, unless they enjoy writing fiction to the point they become professional fiction writers, but let's just say that's not the most common career and certainly not one of the most encouraged.)

It's somehow different to me if you were asking students to put themselves in the shoes of someone, a real person whose account you've read, and to write what they feel/imagine from that. Like just last night, I was watching The Bourne Identity with my son and I lightly interrupted the movie by saying, "Gosh, can you imagine forgetting who you are, your past and everything?" We both had a moment of, "Woah..." Feeling the fright, maybe even panic.

I think my mind is moving ahead to next year and homeschooling my son in high school and being fully responsible for what he does--and having to check off all kinds of things that he is expected to cover to get credit. I've worked now with my daughter and others who have not responded well to the questions such as the first two above. There is something so dreadly artificial to it, even though the situations are totally plausible. (I can't honestly figure out what it is about them that bugs me.)

I don't know, maybe it's the years of Montessori in me? Give a child real kitchen equipment and food to work with rather than the stuff to pretend with? So, give a child a real situation where s/he has to actually write a letter of complaint--or maybe just complimenting--or something actually meaningful.

Meaningful. That's the kind of education I want for my son, especially for high school. I don't know I've totally succeeded so far, but I see all the meaningless stuff my daughter is doing and it just irks me. All the pretending required. And she hate it, too. She wants to be honest, real, and so often, the questions are just so not connecting with her on any level. Is it truly education if kids are just going through the motions, pretending they care about an issue, because it gets them writing certain types of pieces or on certain topics? "Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire." (William Butler Yeats) I fear most students these days are not being truly educated at all. They are robots regurgitating information, invovled in tasks so disconnected from them that their fire is being put out. And what's left is the pretending side of them, which just leaves them lost because it's not who they are.

(I'm Miss Sunshine today, aren't I?)


  1. My first thought on situational questions like that, is that no matter how much information they give, it is not the full information. Reading a novel together or watching a movie together (in addition to being a community/family experience) and discussing it by putting ourselves in that person's shoes, or putting that person's situation into my life - there is just more context there. It is also a natural analysis, with no right/wrong answers in particular; where-as the "pretend" ones, with limited information, generally are expecting certain points to be mentioned - regurgitating information from a limited realm instead of synthesizing the child's whole life in "how would I respond if..." situations.
    Clear as mud ;)

  2. Everytng you said makes perfect sense, Jessica!