The Grand Divide Between Education & Teaching

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The difference between Educating and Teaching… and the emptiness inside

I have decided to translate into English a post I did in French over the weekend due to the interesting discussion that it provoked. An article, entitled (for you francophones) « Il y a un divorce entre enseignement intellectuel et formation morale », by Jacqueline de Romilly, published in Le Figaro on October 29, 2008, inspired this post.

The article features a speech by Jacqueline de Romilly on the state of education and teaching in France. Education is a subject dear to my heart both personally and professionally. In a post I wrote earlier this year, I touched on the topic addressed in the speech by Ms. de Romilly, writing about the differences between education and training.

EducationWhile teaching relates to the transmission of knowledge and intellectual learning, Ms. de Romilly stresses the importance of education in the larger scope, including the transmission of values. “Education … means enabling someone to develop and flourish with his own qualities; for human beings, such human qualities relate to the spirit, character and suitability for life in society.” She cites three major problems in French ‘education’: (1) the poor knowledge of the language which affects the ability to communicate [with a risk of giving way to violence]; (2) a poor understanding of history and, therefore, of one’s past and one’s culture; and (3) a lack of reading of literature that is formative in the development of ideas and one’s imagination, not to mention what one can learn via certain iconic characters.

A fundamental concept is that the education of children begins at home. For example, at the dinner table, a family can forge links, telling stories and, at the same time, transferring the family history. But, today, with the quest for time, broken families and stress of work, the transmission of values, personal history and sharing of free time have become rare commodities for a child. I also know that the French philosopher, Luc Ferry, would approve when I say that we, as parents, must cultivate the passion for — and reading of — great classics, in which there are real lessons of life. In fact, it is vitally important for a child to develop his or her passion(s). Through this passion, a child will cultivate his/her curiosity, learn, connect and ultimately give meaning to his/her life.

Extending the concept of education beyond academia, I am a strong believer in the educational value of sports: how to work as a team, be a leader, to deal with physical challenges, to learn to win or lose with grace. Of course, sports are not all equal in the transmission of these values and are not necessarily for everyone. But for many, sport is also a avenue to channel one’s [excess] energy. In another domain, I believe deeply in the importance of performance arts, such as theatre and dance. Participating in theatre at school (I had roles in a dozen plays) was very formative for me – theatre called for the development of the self, opened me up to the diversity of personalities, and exercised my communication skills and stage presence. In England and university in the United States, I also greatly appreciated the art of debate – an environment that hones one’s talents in defending one’s ideas. It also serves to sharpen communication skills and how to compete in a public forum.

What struck me in the article by Ms. de Romilly was the way in which what she described echoed with the state of education – and society more broadly – in the United States. Ms. de Romilly does not cite the influence of the Internet which is normal to the extent the Internet is merely a tool and not at the root of the problem. But she could have expanded about the lack of attention span of children, distracted by the hyper-visual world, the addictive online games, chat rooms without profound meaning, and so on. Across the Atlantic in the US, a book was released this summer called “Why We Hate Us,” by Dick Meyer. In a similar sense, but coming from a completely different angle, Mr. Meyer writes of the lack of interest that have vis-à-vis each other. For Mr. Meyer, hate is not the hatred of fear & loathing, but the hate as in “oh, [women] don’t you just hate it when the men start talking about sports.” The level of conversation in suburban dinners in the United States, says Meyer, pushes some Americans to seek solitude, isolation (at the very least, it does nothing to encourage meaningful bonding). The conversation is too dehumanized. Many are disappointed by the lack of culture, the lack of depth – and indeed, the dulling effect of being permanently “politically correct.” Americans, he writes, naturally turn to the Internet to find interaction with others who share a specific passion, people who are present at any time within social media networks. Is the same phenomenon currently spreading to France?

Taking a helicopter view on Ms. de Romilly’s speech, I would say that teaching in France focuses too much on academics in general and should incorporate a broader scope on “education,” such as sports, theatre and even debate. With the emphasis on subject matters that promote the left side of the brain (maths, sciences…), schooling in France is flawed and gives less chance for children to blossom fully. Both Ms. de Romilly and Mr. Meyer talk about their values as “old” values; yet, even if some consider them retroactive, these are, in my opinion, timeless values and seem – in some circles, at least – to find a resonance on both sides of the Atlantic (and, of course, the Channel, too).

Blogs that have written on the book “Why We Hate Us”:

10 Comments, RSS

  1. Ron

    Your blog piece really struck home as I have been accumulating every-increasing doubts about what goes on in a number of the schools, (quite expensive ones), I have been in contact with over the past decade.

    My somewhat optimistic hopes for what educational objectives should be, (and regretfully are not), are as follows:

    – Learning to learn: take a new subject and use learning tools such as dictionaries, reference documents, the web, math and other basic skills to acquire new know-how

    – Basic skills: including, but not limited to, reading, vocabulary, spelling, writing, speech, math, organization and analytical process

    – Basic culture: history, geography, literature, civilization, fine arts, music and religion

    – Morality: truth telling, consideration for others, civic responsibility, honesty and fair play (I concur that organized sports can be an effective medium for these attributes)

    – Academic motivation: Getting kids to want to learn more than the minimum to move on to the next year. ( I still recall the names and faces from 50 years back of Stuyvesant High School teachers and Cornell profs that got me interested, moved me to do more and for whom you felt a need to perform. I haven’t met many recently).

    The above listings are of course non-exhaustive and not in order of priority.

    Every time I hear about teachers going on strike I cringe. There are surely some good ones still around but they seem to be a breed headed for extinction.

    So be it.

  2. Peter

    Thanks for the blog. I think the French education, at least in the early years, does better than the American one- at least on these issue.

  3. Alexandra

    Thoughtful and thought-provoking. I begin with your comment about developing one’s passions. Education, it seems to me, is about two major things: to release dreams and to help people develop the tools and skills to move towards them. An education that is principally concerned with what sorts of knowledge one acquires misses both of these aims. Developing dreams and passions comes from imagining and embracing a world broader and more diverse than the one immediately around us.There are many kinds of experience and learning that can take us beyond our immediate environment, of course including exposure to literature, philosophy, the arts, history, sports. Then there is the part about how one tries to help young people reach for those dreams, and that requires effort, persistence, interpersonal skills and imagination. How education releases both the imagination and the persistent effort is very little about what is taught and learned and a great deal about the process.

    I’ll finish with what my daughter, who finished lycee in France and then went on to higher education in the U.S., told me after her first semester in college. When asked how she felt she measured up to American college freshman she said there was no doubt she was incomparably better prepared coming from a French lycee, with better language and writing skills and more knowledge. “But,” she said, “there is one important thing the students who grew up in the U.S. know how to do that I don’t.” When I asked her what that was, she said “They know how to think.”

  4. Dave

    Wonderful article. We continue to preach the broader value of education and youth development in the camping community. The values that traditional camping espouse and the social skills that are garnered in a short time at camp are incredibly valuable to young people.

  5. Yendi

    In our 9 years living in North America, I still remember conversations with people who are grandparents, saying to me that no matter what parents are doing, their children will end up doing OK.
    So here I was with my values such as
    – I cook the same meal for children and adults.
    – I limit time spent on TV/computer/electronic games.
    – the children participate in household chores.
    -I refuse adamantly “I am bored, I want attitude”
    and all my education work does not matter.
    So what’s educating children? giving them choice, freedom, pleasing them, love of course…
    Love comes with respect and boundaries. Children are very egocentric by nature. When they are at the center of each decision in the adult’s worlds, they become tyrants. Go and educate tyrants!

  6. Maidie

    I have read your writing on education versus schooling, and of course I agree wholeheartedly, and enjoyed your descriptions and comments. The situation is the same in Israel, and I have thought a lot about it. And now that Naomi has three sons, she and I talk about it as a real challenge: how to grow up as a family together, not just leading parallel but separate lives while living in the same home.

    The educational system is much the same here as in Europe and France, although there are also undertones that are local….a certain pressure on the children to become a group of peers depending on each other, and not on parents, with strong emphasis on socialism. Our three daughters were strongly influenced by this, and when we realized what was happening, we took the boys out of school and home-schooled them for two years, to try to strengthen the family bonds and diminish that school influence.

    Your mother and I were fortunate to receive a very classic education in our schools, and at dinner the conversations were wonderful, as I remember. Bringing up our own kids, David and I were aware of these things and tried to always have at least one meal a day together, where real communication could happen.

    Besides your suggestion that sport debate and theatre can significantly enhance an individual
    ‘s experience and education, we found traveling together, and exploring nature through camping, also really marvelous ways of learning together, We traveled, the 7 of us, in our big van, by means of ferry, to Cyprus and Greece, in two of the summer vacations.

    My daughter, like you, is thinking about these things. She grew up in country or town situations, but now lives in Tel Aviv – .,,,how can her boys live the free and expansive life she had, in such a different environment? And how to get a modern family even to all sit together around a table? It’s a challenge…can be a good challenge.

  7. MD

    @ron: Definitely agree with you on the importance of good teachers and their ability to help us want to learn, inciting curiosity… And, I still love reading the dictionary.

    @Alexandra: so true. In the realm of grand generalisations, the French have two grand strengths: conceptual and critical thinking. As Maidie says below, the option of travel with the family is a fabulous way to expose a child to one's own values, to culture, history, etc (insomuch as the travel is to "different" or historical places like Egypt, Israel, or basically anywhere in Europe, etc…)

    @dave: Your camp is a great extension of our kids' education. Education being a 365-day, 360 degree process, it is vital that there be multiple sources to enhance & enrich. Camp is a wonderful way to learn about the outdoors, as well as the notions of community and alternative activities not necessarily offered during the school year.

    @yendi: you have been superbly diligent in instilling these values. You could add: visit a museum every new city, too. Lest I not say it elsewhere, ma déesse, you are an exceptional mother.

    @maidie: Spot on regarding travel as a great vehicle of education. The notion of a year abroad — for those that can afford it — is a fabulous experience. The English GAP year is another fine idea. The pressures on our lives will likely not get better. Space, like time, is being compressed by human invention. At least by recognizing (and discussing) the challenges, we are better able to find solutions.

  8. TK

    Education is an all encompassing issue and certainly starts/is influenced at home! However, what strikes me is that we (I’m a US citizen now) in the US have created a situation where a governor (Palin) got pretty close to the White house and doesn’t know that Africa is a continent, that we have allowed a clearly undereducated person to lead this country for 8 years (-he was reelected for God’s sake-), and that half of this country discusses “values” at the dinner table such as literal passages from the bible (all non-Christians go to hell), yet find it absolutely objectionable to “share/spread the wealth”. I can go on and on and would have if Obama wouldn’t have been elected. The issue in my mind is that education, like healthcare, needs a fundamentally different approach. Ignorant people discussing things with their children at the dinner table only perpetuate ignorance, racism and hold us back. Of course the opposite is true as well. This country is becoming increasingly segregated with the wealthy educating their kids in private schools, increasingly living in segregated, often gated communities (to keep the “dangerous” poor out or just a desire not to have to deal with them), and lobbying for lower taxes so public schools have even fewer means to try and start kids off on the best possible path. Half of this country doesn’t care that their leaders think Africa is a country as long as they don’t raise taxes or take away their guns. After more than 50 years of being the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world it is very sad that many public schools simply do not have the means to provide kids with a well-rounded, excellent education before they are college age. I will leave it at that. (Having 48 mil people – 1 in 6!! – without heath insurance may be a topic for the future.) I initially came to the US because I was fed up with the socialistic type issues of Holland, but hey, there’s got to be some middle ground. Go Obama!

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