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The Invisible Culture of Education

“Children shouldn’t be taught what to think, they should be taught HOW to think.”

  • Margaret Meade

I once had a conversation with a French woman about the differences between French and U.S. American education philosophies and she expressed surprise at the work of her son’s U.S. American classmates. They had crooked writing styles, sloppy handwriting and a lot of spelling errors. She was even more shocked that the teachers accepted this work as reasonable.

Her first instinct was to say that U.S. American education was of inferior quality, but when she took a closer look she concluded that the differences weren’t good or bad; they were just different. So who defines what is good and bad about education? Who determines what makes a person “smart”?

I’ve heard different sides of the discussion. One person, originally from Turkey, but living in the US once said, “I don’t want my children to grow up not educated, like Americans.” I guess her definition of “educated” didn’t match that of the US model, which focuses more on problem solving than rule based learning.

I’ve also heard people criticize others who use their titles and degrees to prove that they are the right candidate for the job. “Who cares what they know, what I care about is what they are going to do.” In this case I think of Alan Greenberg from Bear Stearns who, in his book, Memos from the Chairman, said he would much rather hire a hungry high school graduate than an ivy-league grad.

The strengths are different. The approaches are different and what research has shown over and over again is that the more diversity a team has, the more innovative and productive it can be. Teams and workplaces need both types of people.

Which begs the question - what is the invisible culture of education? If people assume that their way is the best or right way, then the group dynamic gets infected with ethnocentrism, which is at the root of identity disconnects. The invisible culture of education lies at the intersection of the values and beliefs that reinforce that one way is better than another.

The judgment in and of itself defines a person as less educated, if you think about it. What does education mean to you? Is it memorization? Is it problem solving? Is it good grades? Is it high self-esteem? Is it connectivity and empathy? Is it the ability to stand in the face of death and keep your cool?

It is easy to be the person we are born to be. It is easy to achieve an ideal when there is no stress or pressure, but it is much harder to adapt to the constantly changing group dynamic that is at the core of workplace cultures.

If education is seen as a field that is in the process of evolving and that we haven’t quite arrived yet, then the space for judgment can be shifted to one of curiosity for what the future will define as good education.

Will future educators look back on our time period and see our choices as, for lack of a better word, intelligent? Some believe that our current education systems are only serving between 25-35% of the population and teaching the other 65-75% that they are dumb. That would suggest that we haven’t figured it out just yet.

I have a friend who keeps referring to people as smart or not smart, but what if we, as a race, haven’t learned how to grasp what true intelligence really is, yet? Inclusive education means that words like “smart” and “intelligent” need adjectives and qualifiers, otherwise we are forgetting to use our words wisely.

What defines “good education” to you?

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