Sunday, January 27, 2013

Why there should be Field Experience in Education

The following is a modified version I will soon be presenting for a contest with "collegeplus."

In the middle ages, and for some time thereafter, it was the custom for burghers and shop keepers to keep apprentices for a number of years, during which time the youngsters would learn the trade of the person they were apprenticed to. This gave them a better education than they would have had had they sat in a classroom with books reading about the trade rather than actually working it. This applies to more things than shop keeping.
When we teach math, after giving the formulas we give real problems. After teaching theory of addition, we give the problem of 9+9=? If the child was never presented with real arithmetic problems we will never know until they leave the class if they learned math right. Math can be learned when one is older- character, decision making, clarity of thought and critical thinking cannot be. If we are to see if children have the skill they must someday use, we must give them problems with which to test those skills.
The question could be asked then, “Why not give them theoretical problems as we do in math? We do not send them to the field to multiply peaches. We have them multiply abstract numbers in the class.” While this is true, there are certain things that cannot be measured in training. Thinking critically at a table with a coke beside your right hand and an eraser on your left has little pressure, and the eraser will cover your mistakes. In the field there are no erasers, make a mistake, and there will be more consequences than a red mark on your paper. If the purpose of “schooling” is to prepare children for life, it is imperative that we prepare them now for real life.
Classrooms tend to close off the bounds of learning to only a few facts, those which are needed to pass the upcoming test. Even in homeschool, with whole books, no or few tests, and a much better system, there is still a limit to what can be learned theoretically. That is why there must be real life experience.
So what does life experience look like? It can encompass a wide variety of things. Anything from interviewing people for a local poll to discover if the town’s economy could support another floral shop to going to the Sudan to watch in the field cataract surgery. It could be anything that is better learned in the field than in the classroom, anything for which reality is a better teacher than Miss Smith.
In the field, students can study live animals for biology, instead of drawings. They can look at the actual place where Washington stood, and see where the lines of battle were actually placed. They can study fishing with the sailors, and learn about human nature in the process.
John Taylor Gatto, a famed educator said “After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress genius because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.” (emphases added)
Let them manage themselves because they know better than the teachers as to how their minds work. Let them manage themselves because self-educated people are some of the most brilliant in history. Schooling is in the class, education is in the field.
Through His Strength We Will Conquer,
Andrew C. Abbott

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