“The overriding goal of educational institutions at any level would
be to learn how to learn, since specific content becomes obsolete in
a fast-changing society.” (Merriam & Brockett, 2007, p. 84)
The contemporary parable, “Catch a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime” comes to mind upon reading this quote. In our present state in society, obsolescence is a regular part of life. Buy the newest cellular phone today only to have a better one become available next month. Learn the latest computer language for software programming this year only to find your skills rendered useless in a short matter of time. Read the most up-to-date textbook on adult education for this course only to have the next edition released next semester.
In this culture of fast-paced progress in technology, research, and information, acquiring a mere educational certificate is no longer enough to solidify one’s relevance or ability for the long-term within most vocations. Diplomas and degrees now need to be much more than meager rites of passage. As educators, plainly providing the information required to pass the exams and earn the credentials is to detrimentally cripple students’ future endeavors in their prospective careers. To instead teach research skills, to provide resources available to be accessed in a variety of forms, to guide students through projects of their own design within specified boundaries—this is what is required of present-day instructors involved at every level of education.
I remember my mindset throughout elementary and high school; I was focused on simply learning the subject matter well enough to pass the tests, receiving my A grades, and reaping whatever rewards my parents were dishing out that year for impressive report cards. There were, however, a few teachers along the way (and especially once I entered university) that had a larger view for my future than I did. They were the ones who pushed for individual creativity, who fostered an environment for learning to learn on my own, who asked the questions that did not have correct answers. They were the unconventional ones, and—in my ignorance—seemed frustrating because they would not simply give out the “right answers” so I could study. Looking back now, however, they were the ones I call my favorite teachers. They earned these titles because they did not merely teach me information to regurgitate onto the blank lines of an exam paper. They taught me skills to use for the rest of my life.
I would like to be someone’s favorite teacher someday; how amazing would that be? I now realize that teaching students the ability to learn on their own is a requisite of a “favorite teacher” designation. Much the way I have found this course to be, with a plethora of available resources to use at my leisure, but not as a requirement to get through them all; with a choice of several theories to choose from to research and write about; with an open-ended creative project in manufacturing a personal blog; with a mandate of settling upon a philosophy of education that is all my own and requiring a means of defending it. Assignments like these are what indirectly force students to learn on their own and encourage the growth of skills necessary to do so. And this is what is so vital in order to survive in today’s society of ever-changing industries.
Merriam, S. B. & Brockett, R. G. (2007). The profession and practice of adult education: An introduction. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.