Play The World of Mindcraft: No Purchase NecessaryJanuary 25, 2010
Computer scientist Alan Perlis complained about education, saying, “It goes against the grain of modern education to teach students to program,” asking, “What fun is there to making plans, acquiring discipline, organizing thought, devoting attention to detail, and learning to be self-critical?” Yet the things he describes are exactly the kinds of things that are part of fun in learning. The problem is that not everyone is interested in learning to program. And without interest, almost any activity, no matter how fascinating it is to someone else, is drudgery (see post: “There IS a Formula for Drudgery,” September 16, 2009).
When you’re in school, there’s definitely going to be some drudgery involved whether or not a subject interests you. It’s difficult to avoid it. Almost every discipline has knowledge and skills that take time and deliberate attention to acquire, so even if you love a particular subject, you’re likely to encounter times when what you’re studying is just plain hard work. If you don’t love it, the work may be even harder. Doing the hard work is empowering. Grappling with confusion and uncertainty and coming to understanding builds belief in your ability to successfully meet the challenges not just of school, but of life. It is fun to complete an assignment and know that the work you hand in is meaningful and represents real effort on your part.
It’s week four here on the quarter system and mid-terms are coming. There’s still time to turn the quarter around if you haven’t been making an effort to engage. There’s still time to pay attention, still time to produce quality work, still time to read and study and do what you need to do to be successful. There’s also still time to reflect on your part in the teaching/learning symbiosis, what Perllis refers to as learning to be self-critical. One of the questions students are asked on their course evaluations here is to rank themselves on the degree to which they took responsibility for their own learning. I am always surprised by the number of students who don’t give themselves the highest ranking here. And I always wonder why not.
In “The Curriculum of Necessity or What Must an Educated Person Know?”, John Taylor Gatto (2005) referenced ten learning abilities identified at Harvard University as essential for adapting to a rapidly changing world of work. As you read them, assess where you are as a student/human being related to each one:
• The ability to define problems without a guide.
• The ability to ask hard questions which challenge prevailing assumptions.
• The ability to work in teams without guidance.
• The ability to work absolutely alone.
• The ability to persuade others that your course is the right one.
• The ability to discuss issues and techniques in public with an eye to reaching decisions about policy.
• The ability to conceptualize and reorganize information into new patterns.
• The ability to pull what you need quickly from masses of irrelevant data.
• The ability to think inductively, deductively, and dialectically. (Note: dialectic, debate to resolve a conflict between two contradictory or seemingly contradictory ideas, with truth on both sides; grappling with essential tensions).
• The ability to attack problems heuristically. (Note: heuristic, trial and error solutions, discovery learning, rather than using set rules).
Assessing yourself isn’t enough. To be successful in school—and in life—you must also set goals that target building on your strengths and addressing your weaknesses. This isn’t a one-time activity, but an ongoing process. It’s playing the game of mindcraft and reaching higher and higher levels of self-empowerment as a learner.
What learning goals would be beneficial for you this term?
It’s not only the ability to raise and answer those questions [referring to habits of mind that explore evidence, point of view, connections, supposition, and relevance] though, but also the disposition to do so. For that matter, any set of intellectual objectives, any description of what it means to think deeply and critically, should be accompanied by a reference to one’s interest or intrinsic motivation to do such thinking. Dewey reminded us that the goal of education is more education. To be well-educated, then, is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure that learning never ends.
–Alfie Kohn (2004), What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?, pp. 9-10