What makes an education effective?

What makes an education effective? Is it high marks on standardized tests? Perhaps we can measure success by graduation rate. Or is there something more? As a past and likely future educator, I believe the effectiveness of an education lies in finding a way to open a student’s mind to possibility. I recall the days of my twenties—assisting a classroom of threes, fours, and fives—witnessing the reaction of a child who suddenly “gets it”. It was in those moments where I found my feelings of accomplishment.

Today, I have a school-age daughter and keeping her engaged in her schoolwork is its own reward. With the pull of technology ever-present, my wife and I compete with the tablet for the little one’s attention. Most days, she finishes her homework on the bus or at Mom-mom’s house, before we see her. A quick review shows whether she gave correct answers or if we need to review. We can’t be there for tests, so we have to ensure her grasp is firm while sitting at the dining room table.

We are engaged in our daughter’s education. We contact the teachers with concerns. My wife volunteers at the school when schedule permits. We talk to our daughter about what she’s learning. Despite our best efforts, our daughter does not bring home 100s. What are we doing wrong?

Across the country, children complete homework with no input from Mom or Dad or anyone else. Kids go to school with neither lunch nor money and are too shy or embarrassed to eat “free” lunch. Somewhere right now, a child knows the answer but is not going to speak up for fear that he’ll be ridiculed or she’ll be deemed not-cool.

Kids need to feel safe and secure and that they’re a part of something much larger. If, as a nation and as a society, we would impress upon our children that education is imperative, perhaps we can get every kid engaged in his and her own learning. Could we somehow let them know that they are the future and they’ll be standing in our shoes one day? Can’t we teach them how important they really are and that the fate of humanity rests on their shoulders?

Maybe we can simply tell them they are ok; it’s ok to fail a test or get an answer wrong. There’s a larger picture and they are both the artist and the subject. Maybe we can teach them that one of the primary goals of education is the love of learning and that they have time to learn this. In the meantime, enjoy the journey. It gets lost too often in the deadlines and the finite grading scales.

This is my first post to edu|FOCUS. I chose not to tackle funding issues or the evils of homogenized learning and standardized tests. There’s plenty of time for all that. What kind of father would I be—what kind of educator—if I tell my daughter to take her time while doing her math and then I rush into the denser, deeper issues without first discussing fun?

Let’s make it fun to love learning. That’s an effective education!

Robert Gardner
Robert Gardner
rgardner74@yahoo.com
  • Nancy Pitts-Lewis

    Hi Mr. Gardner. I’m a parent and an educator, so I understand your frustrations from both sides of the fence! You are an actively involved and supportive parent and you want to help your daughter do her best in school. From your post, you sound like you are doing exactly what you need to do to help her excel. I realize that the system puts high importance on grades, scores, GPA, etc., but I believe that your biggest concern should be about her learning. Is she growing intellectually? Is she being challenged in school? Is she retaining the information? Does she enjoy class and her teacher? If you can say yes to these things, then you are winning! If she made 100s predominantly, I would be worried that she wasn’t getting enough of a challenge. I hope this point of view was helpful.

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  • CNow

    Rob, my daughter is in 5th grade, so I know the allure of the omnipresent tablets/phones/etc. I have stressed to her that Social Studies, Phonics, and whatever other class is important, but not he end all be all. I think we as parents often focus on grades too much. I mean my daughter is average, maybe a little above in some areas, and she loves singing/dancing/theater. She isn’t going to be the next Curie or Copernicus…but she may be successful on stage in plays and the like…so I stress that. As a kid, I despised that I was told what to learn…all the way into college. I think your entire college career should be your major and then electives. I remember nothing about my class “Post-Industrial Society”, but I do remember and use some things I learned in my Psych classes I took as an elective…because I was interested and wanted to learn. Similarly, today I will read a book I want to read..in HS I abhored that we were “forced” to read some Evelyn Waugh nonsense!

    • rg

      Absolutely, Chris. We want to see her happy and well-adjusted. But also to enjoy school and learning for what it is. It would be nice to see her pick up a book and read it without prompting or promise of a reward. I recall reading Beowulf in Durkin’s class. Tried reading it as an adult and nearly fell asleep on page 1.

      • CNow

        You are doing a great job. I think our job as parents is to expose kids to different things gently and let the kids figure out what they like…then we just focus and support that!

  • Fuzziness

    Good article. We definitely need to teach kids how to accept failure and use it to build success. And your point about making kids feel like they’re part of a bigger picture is a really good point too. Hope to see more articles from you!

    • rg

      Thank you, Fuzziness! I plan on adding my voice to the conversation…